Corporate Responsibility 2.0

Was just noting some folks all happy about how a recent commercial for Secret deodorant features a Trans woman, and it got me to thinking.

This is probably a ridiculous thing for a damned-near-socialist progressive to say, but: In the current political climate, we just may have our asses saved by corporations.

I’m not kidding. It took them a long time to get around to it, but with leading examples from the tech industry, among others, a lot of big companies, especially those that do a lot of international business, are now actively supportive of diversity, both in hiring and in advertising/customer relations/etc. They’re finding it’s good for business or at least doesn’t do them any harm to have diverse casts in their commercials, openly support employees with same-gender spouses or who transition while on the job, etc. They get blowback, sure, but it never really affects the bottom line all that much.

Part of the reason the tech industry led the way on this is because when the first boom was happening in the mid-’90s, they were having a terrible time finding enough talented staff (hence the giant salaries they were offering–and still are, in some cases.) At the time, losing a damned good coder could directly affect the business, so they made a point of having their HR departments enforce some “don’t give people any shit” policies to retain as much quality staff as possible. As the industries grew, they also still needed more talent than low-STEM-focused American schools could provide, so they worked with the government to expand access to H1B visas. As a result, tech-heavy areas like Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest are now way more diverse than they were a couple of generations ago, and it’s led to flourishing cultures and economies in these states.

(Of course this doesn’t apply to all tech companies. The brogrammer thing is a problem and there’s also gmrgt blah blah. There’s a certain crowd of white dudes who can’t admit that they’re bad at what they do and got mad that they’ve lost jobs/promotions to women or people from China or India, and decided to be assholes about it.)

Other industries started seeing companies like Microsoft doing not just well but damned well with diverse staffs and even active political advocacy that they started following suit, and have had their own successes with it. It doesn’t always work for businesses that are failing for other reasons, but on an industry level, diversity has proven to literally pay off.

We may see a little pulling back from this as companies try to hedge their bets in the wake of the unexpected election results, but there’s another factor that means they probably won’t dial it back too far: Most of the direct attacks they get from the public for doing stuff like this are coming from people who frankly don’t spend a lot of money. There’s a whole ‘nother essay in here about economic justice and such, and it’s not like there’s a tax-bracket-based sliding scale for bigotry. Most of Trump’s voters make $75k+. But yeah. These people have votes–and I would never argue that they shouldn’t–but they don’t have enough money to vote with their wallets. What little disposable income they have tends to get spent on things outside of the usual consumer-goods stream, like church tithing.  It doesn’t matter how much they complain about the company’s advertising if they have next to no means to back that up since they’re buying Wal-Mart brand deodorant, not Secret.

I don’t at all mean that their being poor is something to dislike them for. Absolutely not; there’s no inherent shame in being poor–even if it’s shameful on a national level that we make people live like that. Poverty affects all different kinds of people and needs to be ended. But from a business perspective, there’s really no money in catering to bigots unless you’re selling only either to the very poor or very rich, or are running a local or regional business in a bigot-heavy area. A company selling name-brand stuff across the country and around the world can make more money appealing to diverse audiences and those who either actively support them or at least aren’t fazed by it.

Add in the fact that huge-market-cap companies like Apple and Boeing are going to be seriously screwed over by some of Trump’s preposterous economic plans, and I think we’re about to see business go to war with government in a very different way than any of us could have expected. Make no mistake, we absolutely still need to work on economic justice issues like labor rights, equal pay, family leave, living wages, etc. We still need to hold industry accountable. But right now, government’s posing a far bigger threat, and business is one of the few power centers left that can stop it. I’ll probably burn it if we finally get our government back next election, but for now, I’m waving a little “yay, capitalism” flag in the hopes that they’ll at least want to keep people alive and out of internment camps so we can keep giving them our money.


About Shawna (A Mediated Life)

Writer, singer, parent, fan, media maven, and general ne'er-do-well. Fierce protector of the rights of the disadvantaged and endless pontificator on subjects both ridiculous and sublime.
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