Corporate Relevance in the Age of Social Unrest

In “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” renowned African American author Zora Neale-Hurston writes, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

Six months in, 2020 has proven to be the year of seismic questions that are poised to trigger significant change. The murder of George Floyd, coupled with the protests of the past few weeks and the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to many urgent and important questions across all sectors of society, including corporate America. Over the last few weeks, corporations across the country have been pressed to address questions about racial and social inequity; their engagement and support of their communities; and their leadership approach in these turbulent times – all of which have influenced their overall relevance.

Through our W2O Relevance framework, we sought to understand the effect of corporate responses to recent events on corporate relevance, surface trends and share guidance for consideration. We analyzed social conversations on racial and social inequity, along with corporate responses and employee commentary to solidarity statements. We found one thing that’s abundantly clear: we are entering a new era of corporate citizenship. There is increased pressure and expectations that companies lead and engage on social issues from the inside out and in the communities around them. What’s more, employees and stakeholders are demanding swift, actionable changes, pointing to the need to focus on authenticity and inclusion. Our analysis shows that companies that  are rising to the challenge in open and honest ways are being rewarded with increased relevance.

For a copy of the full “Relevance in the Era of 
Social Change and Disruption” Analysis, click here.

Trends that had been simmering for the past few years have reached a critical inflection point through the convergence of COVID-19 and racial injustice.

W2O has tracked the relevance of 62 Fortune 500 healthcare companies’ racial and social equity efforts for the past two years. This data shows several emerging trends that have intensified with the events of 2020:

  • A growing focus and increased conversation on social equity, with a specific emphasis on diversity and inclusion (D&I)
  • A push for transparent communication and engagement on D&I and social equity issues
  • Mounting stakeholder expectations for action and measurable results

In the wake of the social unrest following the death of George Floyd, corporate America has found itself at a crossroads. While 36 of the top 50 Fortune companies responded to the event and the larger question around racial injustice, the data shows that platitudes weren’t enough. Companies that acted quickly and robustly not only bolstered their relevance, but their commitments went beyond the playbook. Those companies leaned into comprehensive social actions that not only aligned with their values, but were aimed at addressing some of the tenets/issues that have contributed to the systemic racism and social injustice that have plagued the United States for centuries.

2020 continues to be not only the year of questions, but the year of potential change. Companies can no longer go by the playbooks that they have always used. By living and breathing their values in partnership with their employees and communities, companies that are part of the corporate fabric of our society can serve as agents of change.

In the past few weeks, W2O has taken action and made new commitments to D&I. We have made a cash donation of $50,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, two nonprofits working to address racial inequity. W2O has also created a matching program for employee donations and outlined steps for W2O and our industry to do more. We will continue to work toward change, and know we must do more.

Contributions to this content were made by Marianne Gollub, Kayla Rodriguez, Katy Hagert, Meredith Owe, Kendall Tich, Alan Chumley, and Daniel Steffen of W2O.


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Abby Hayes
Abby Hayes

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