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Images and videos of the horrific war in Ukraine have circulated the globe, leading to discussions in classrooms, television studios, internet spaces and boardrooms — to name a few places.
Some businesses have taken a stand. Airbnb, Netflix and Accenture are just three companies that recently severed ties with Russia. Johnny Taylor, the CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), posited in a Quartz interview, “We’re a global society, so everything impacts you whether you know it or not. But the question is, where should a company respond to issues that aren’t arguably directly connected to your business?” Taylor went on to tell Quartz that companies that have decided to respond to the war in Ukraine need to determine how they’ll approach their statements and how they’ll bring up those statements when speaking with their employees.
As an artist and business owner, I believe that business leaders have an obligation to speak up about global conflicts, including the war in Ukraine and other atrocities. Here are three reasons why.
1. Keeping Silent Means We Aren’t Being Transparent With Consumers
I believe that organizations should be politically transparent — in fact, I believe consumers should demand political transparency from organizations.
If you run a business that preaches transparency as a corporate value but doesn’t take a stand against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other atrocities, then you’re not practicing what you preach. And yes, some business leaders may fear that if they speak up, they’ll lose customers. I understand this fear.
But my retort is this: Would you really want to have a consumer base that doesn’t align with your values?
2. Keeping Silent Leads to Others Keeping Silent
As the saying goes, “Silence begets silence.” The more business leaders stay silent, the higher the chances that other business leaders will remain silent.
Every business leader that says and does something in response to an atrocity encourages another business leader to do the same. As Quartz reporter Lila MacLellan wrote in the same article I referenced above, “Seemingly every new company that joins the boycott gives another CEO the courage to do the same.”
If business leaders don’t speak up, we’ll be left with booming, destructive silence, and the people responsible for committing atrocities will face even fewer consequences. Imagine if the businesses that have taken a stand against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hadn’t done so; in essence, they would have been telling the world that they were, at best, indifferent about the situation and, at worst, in support of the war.
3. Keeping Silent Limits Our Ability to Learn and Grow
We learn by having conversations and interacting with others. Unfortunately, some business leaders are so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing that they rob themselves of the opportunity to engage in public discourse and learn and grow.
But in the United States, we’re lucky that we have what I call the freedom to mess up. We have the freedom to say the wrong thing, get called out on it and grow. And look, I know that’s a terrifying thought. No one wants to be wrong. But if we, as business leaders, stay silent about the war in Ukraine and other monstrosities around the world, how will we know if we’re wrong, and how will we learn and grow?
Speaking up enables us to start conversations. If we’re wrong, we’ll learn. If we’re right, we’ll empower others to speak up. And sometimes, we might get wrongfully lambasted for what we say, even if we’re on the right side of history. Remember the Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks) and the public outrage they got for criticizing George W. Bush and the Iraq War? But that’s a risk we must take.
My call to other business leaders and to myself — because I know I can speak out more and do more about the Ukraine war and other horrors — is to prioritize saying and doing something when something unjust happens in the world. We have the freedom to do so. Let’s not waste it.