As #MeToo bloomed into a fully formed social movement in late 2017, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ D.C. office gathered for a meeting. The staff of the professional services firm had already received an email from U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner Tim Ryan in the days following a New York Times story revealing decades of sexual harassment complaints against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Ryan expressed horror at the allegations, lauding the courage of Weinstein’s accusers while reiterating PwC’s processes for reporting harassment.
But company leaders wanted to do more. Rather than let the #MeToo movement be defined internally by another round of training, the company chose to bring its ethics team to Washington for a two-day pilot program on respect in the workplace, complete with an open discussion among male and female employees of navigating the boundaries and issues brought up in the wake of the disclosures. PwC is now working to expand the program throughout its offices in the U.S.
“Social change is messy,” said PwC Diversity Strategy Leader Jennifer Allyn. “We’re in an awkward period right now where we’re reflecting and renegotiating boundaries. We don’t want to be bystanders. We want to be upstanders.”
PwC is one of many companies in Greater Washington and beyond that have chosen to directly tackle social movements in the past year. Whether making a public statement or internal shifts, many businesses are finding they can no longer afford to remain neutral.
That can be literally true for consumer brands. According to the 2017 Edelman Earned Brand Study, 57 percent of consumers will boycott or seek out a certain brand because of its position on a social issue.
“Brands that live their beliefs in all that they do, and invite consumers to take action with them, will be rewarded with more conversation, more conversion, and ultimately, more commitment,” said Mark Renshaw, global head of Edelman’s brand practice, in a company blog post in June 2017.
Following the deadly shooting in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, companies quickly took public action regarding gun control and the National Rifle Association. Airlines including Delta and United ended discount programs for NRA members. Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods raised the minimum age for firearms purchases to 21.