Millennials Seek Out CEO Activists

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Activism among business leaders is a hot topic for millennials. This generation has shown a clear preference for CEOs who won’t hesitate to stand up and make a statement about key social issues. When they spot a CEO who is bold and vocal in their stance, those of the millennial generation tend to take note. They’ll respond with their actions, words, and – if you’re sending the right message – their loyalty.

Whether leaders are looking for millennial employees or millennial shoppers, making a statement can point their companies in the right direction.

Millennials Look for Activist Bosses

A modern CEO activist.

According to the CEO Activism in 2017: High Noon in the C-Suite report by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, 44 percent of full-time millennial employees feel more loyal to their organization if the CEO takes a public position on a hot-button topic. Employers should take note if they have a high number of millennials on their staff, or are hoping to attract millennials to fill open positions.

However, it’s important for these CEOs to note the impact that activism may have on other generations as well. Just 16 percent of Gen Xers and 18 percent of Baby Boomers feel more loyalty to an activist CEO. Perhaps more importantly, 18 percent of Gen Xers and 20 percent of Baby Boomers will actually feel less loyal to this type of leader. This is true of 20 percent of millennials as well. Though they’re more likely to respond favorably, there’s still the chance that these efforts will fall short. It’s clear that CEOs are in a sticky situation here where it will be impossible to please everyone on staff.

CEO Activism Sparks Conversation

CEO activism spurs a vast majority of millennials to some type of action. This is a highly effective way to grab this generation’s attention, as 74 percent of millennials will respond to a CEO who takes a strong stance. Over a quarter of these will talk about the CEO’s stance with family and friends, while 23 percent will discuss it with coworkers. Company leaders who want to increase word of mouth about their business can do so effectively with millennials just by taking a firm position on a hotly debated topic.

Activism Encourages Millennial Sales

A CEO activist can help boost a company’s sales if they’re marketing to millennials. This generation not only seeks active CEOs in the workplace, they look for them when making purchasing decisions as well. Millennials believe in voting with their dollars. These shoppers are keenly aware that every purchase they make ultimately supports a larger company, production practice, or cause. More than half of millennials say their buying decisions are influenced by CEO activism; this indicates an 11 percent increase since 2016.

Meanwhile, just a third of gen Xers feel this way, which is a 17 percent decrease from last year. The number of baby boomers whose purchases are influenced by CEO activism has decreased 14 percent since 2016 to just 30 percent of current shoppers. The importance of CEO activism is clearly hitting a distinct chord with the millennial generation that isn’t felt as keenly elsewhere.

Why Millennials Care

The statistics are clear that a large number of millennials are influenced by activist CEOs, but why exactly does this generation care so much? Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation says that “For millennials, taking consistent positive actions every day or week is a lifestyle and a fundamental part of their identity.”

Millennials once got slack for their quieter approach to activism. A 2007 New York Times column by Thomas Friedman called millennials “Generation Q,” for quiet. However, it’s become increasingly apparent that this generation isn’t inactive, they’re simply choosing a different avenue for their political participation. Instead of taking to the streets with boycotts and protests, they’re going online to research how their everyday activities, like purchasing food, clothing, and other products, are ultimately impacting the larger global landscape. A U.S. Trust study found that millennials often see investment choices as “a way to express my social, political, or environmental values.”

Overall, a third of Americans believe that CEOs have a responsibility to speak out. Among millennials, the number is higher with 47 percent indicating that CEOs are responsible for taking a stand on important issues in society. Another 17 percent of millennials are undecided on the issue. Furthermore, 56 percent of this generation believes that business leaders have a greater responsibility to speak out today than they did in the past.

Active Brands See Loyal Millennials

Survey statistics aren’t the only proof of millennials’ feelings toward activist CEOs. They’re actively showing it in what they use, wear, and purchase. A 2017 survey by Moosylvania indicated that Apple is millennials’ favorite brand. Apple CEO Tim Cook is notoriously outspoken on social issues.

Cook told The Washington Post, “ – for a company that’s all about empowering people through our products, and being a collection of people whose goal in life is to change the world for the better – it doesn’t sit right with me that you have that kind of focus, but you’re not making sure your carbon footprint isn’t poisoning the place. Or that you’re not evangelizing moving human rights forward.”

Wal-Mart was in the top 10 for millennial favorites as well. Moosylvania indicated that the company’s pledge to adopt humane standards for its meat and to give workers a raise factored into the store’s popularity for this generation.

As you pursue your master’s degree in management, it’s important to understand how to make the right choices as you try to connect with this generation, both in the workplace and through marketing.

If you’re fascinated by the many facets that come into play when earning millennials’ loyalty, you may enjoy diving deeper into this issue and other key leadership concepts with a Master of Science in Management Online degree from New England College. This will give you the opportunity to explore how activism and social issues are impacting leaders’ effectiveness when it comes to connecting with different generations.