Engaging on Social Issues: A Conversation with America’s HR Leaders

hr leaders on stage

To tackle the problems of a highly polarized society, which virtually all corporate executives agree is not helpful to a productive business environment, business must do more to be part of the solution.  Businesses need to help their people learn how to embrace dialogue, enhance their empathy, and operate with civility at work. But does that mean you encourage workforce conversations on social issues? Do you suggest such conversations are best being left out of the workplace? Does a remote workforce make this problem easier or harder?

Then there is the pressure on CEOs and business leaders to speak out publicly on social issues. But consider the cases of Bud Light, Target, Disney, and others.  Polarizing issues are starting to make many CEOs want to avoid the conversation altogether. Is this right? How do you decide? Are there frameworks to help you decide if, when and how you speak publicly?

Exploring these issues requires the engagement of several C-suite executives, certainly including the Chief Human Resource Officers and their entire HR organizations.  To that end, the Dialogue Project partnered with SHRM, the foremost trusted authority on all things work, worker and the workplace with more than 329,000 members from 165 countries.

During the SHRM Executive Network Visionaries Summit in Washington, DC this past fall, more than 400 SHRM Executive Network members attended and engaged in a dynamic conversation on evaluating if, when and how companies should engage on various social issues.

Moderating the panel conversation was Dialogue Project founder Bob Feldman, who was joined by three expert panelists: Whitney Eichinger, senior vice president of culture and communications for Southwest Airlines; Dan Webber, president of the Washington, DC office of public relations firm Edelman, and John Leer, chief economist for market intelligence company Morning Consult.


Question #1: Are your employees already discussing social issues in the workplace and, if so, how do you handle that? How do you structure listening?

Question #2: Can you enhance IE&D (leading with inclusion as data shows that has the greatest impact) training to strengthen its relevance and importance beyond the workplace?

Question #3: Please share the “Southwest Way” values framework.

Question #4: How important are a company’s values when it comes to recruiting new talent?

Question #5: What’s your framework for determining if, when and how you engage publicly on social issues?