Canadians are increasingly seeking stances on social issues from their employers

When it comes to addressing some of society’s biggest challenges, Canadians are more likely to look to their business leaders for solutions.

According to a recent survey conducted by FleishmanHillard HighRoad of nearly 9,000 adults across #Canada, the #Unitedtates, the United Kingdom, #China, #SouthKorea, #Italy and #Germany, Canadian respondents were more likely to believe #employers should take a stand on social, political, #economic and #publichealth issues.

Nearly 70 per cent of #Canadians indicated that companies should address inequality and #racism, compared with 59 per cent of respondents in the other countries surveyed. The study also found that 55 per cent expected them to take on data privacy and security – five per cent above the average – and 45 per cent believe companies should take a stand on #genderdiscrimination, compared to 35 per cent of global respondents. Furthermore, 34 per cent of Canadians wanted their business leaders to address #LGBTQ discrimination, 10 points higher than the average.

Canadians were also roughly 10 per cent more likely to believe their CEOs should take action on health and safety, show empathy for their communities and take a stand on #racialinequality and violence.

“There’s an overwhelming difference in terms of the opinions of Canadians compared to global averages,” says FleishmanHillard HighRoad’s president, Angela Carmichael. “What it suggests is that Canadians are passionate about wanting change, they’re passionate about wanting to see action, and it says clearly in terms of where they want to work, they want to be part of companies that are doing good in society.”

The findings are consistent with international studies that measure trust, such as the annual Edelman Trust Barometer.

“It’s pretty well established that globally #Canada is regarded as what’s called a ‘high-trust country,’” explains Chris MacDonald, who teaches ethics and social responsibility at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management. Mr. MacDonald explains that trust has significant value in business, especially in the age of transparency brought on by #socialmedia and access to information online. “All of this is part of a bundle that makes Canada a very attractive place to do business and to invest,” he says.

Mr. MacDonald adds that the high bar for corporate leadership in Canada means that business leaders should expect to be held to account by their employees and customers, and advises them to take the necessary time to carefully consider what their organization stands for.

“The fact that Canadians have these expectations means that they care, and they’re going to be more likely to ask those questions,” he says. “You want it to be second nature to talk about what you stand for.”

That pressure is very real to Canadian CEOs, some of whom will ultimately fail to live up to expectations.

“Sometimes these companies do something only to alleviate the pressure,” says Mikael Cho, the co-founder and CEO of Montreal-based stock-image platform Unsplash. “That’s better than nothing, but sometimes it’s almost like a deflection; people forget, and those conversations dwindle.”

For his part, Mr. Cho says Unsplash seeks to include diverse representation in the visuals it features on its platform. “That’s what we feel is the biggest impact that we can have, using something that we uniquely are able to do as a company,” he says. “When you have what looks like … access to resources to make a change, there is an expectation that you should be doing something.”

Mr. Cho, who moved to Canada from Wisconsin 12 years ago and recently received his Canadian citizenship, says the difference in culture between Canada and the United States is evident in the “language each nation uses to describe itself.”

“The motto in the United States is ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;’ that’s very individualistic,” adds Gerard Seijts, a professor of organizational behaviour at the Ivey School of Business. “In Canada it’s ‘Peace, order and good government;’ that’s more collective.”

Mr. Seijts believes these core values intensify expectations placed on those in positions of power in Canada, including business leaders. At the same time, he cautions that corporate leaders cannot be expected to solve major systemic problems alone, as it is not their primary function.

“I don’t think, for example, with social justice, that this is something business leaders can solve by themselves,” he says. “At the same time, perhaps more so than ever before, we need leaders of conviction and above all courage to step out of the #comfortzone to make bold statements and set bold objectives.”

JARED LINDZON

SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL

PUBLISHED AUGUST 7, 2020

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