What should CEOs say in a polarized world?

Photo of a Male Asian CEO giving a presentation.

What should CEOs say in a polarized world?

Advice to CEOs: Speak out on issues aligned with the company’s values.


In a polarized world with conflicts, elections, and climate change, CEOs are often called upon to take a stand on hot topics but then face criticism when they do. What should CEOs be talking about?

Reputation Leaders’ recent survey has a clear message from Americans to their CEOs: Take a stand on issues that reflect the company’s values, particularly environmental and social concerns, but exercise caution when opining on geopolitical matters.


A survey of 1005 US adults in February 2024 by Reputation Leaders found that consumers want business CEOs to take a definitive stance on environmental issues (27%) and speak on social issues that align with their company’s core values (26%). However, consumers also advise a cautious approach to polarizing geopolitical issues, with 1 in 4 consumers preferring a neutral stance from corporate figures in these areas (24%). Regardless of the issue, however, the decision for CEOs to speak out hinges on how the topical issue aligns with the company’s values.



Reflecting increased social concerns, ethical and fair treatment of employees (36%) is as important as the quality of a company’s offerings (36%) on the company’s image. Women’s image of a company (41%) is most influenced by how the organization treats its employees. On the other hand, fewer men (30%) value employee treatment, and instead, men place greater emphasis on product quality (40%) when considering a company’s image.


As expected, poor customer service (47%) damages reputation. However, exploitative practices towards employees or customers also severely tarnish a company’s public standing. Consumers highlighted unfair employee practices (40%) and exploiting your customers for profit (35%) as damaging a company’s reputation.


From these findings, the reputation benchmark of high product quality now shares the spotlight with how well companies treat their people. Organizations must re-evaluate their approach to corporate responsibility, especially regarding how well they serve employees and customers.