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7 social issues CEOs will prioritize in 2019

This year, CEOs will focus their efforts on issues like climate change and sexual misconduct.

7 social issues CEOs will prioritize in 2019
[Photos: U.S. Department of Agriculture; barakbro/Pixabay; Maryland GovPics/Jay Baker; DarkoStojanovic /Pixabay; Guilherme Cunha/Unsplash; rawpixel/Unsplash; Charles Edward Miller]

In 2019, as in recent years, chief executives will certainly be wading into politics. This is, after all, the era of the activist CEO, be it Patagonia’s Rose Marcario or Chip Bergh of Levi’s. The public all but expects companies to take a stand: In a recent report, PR firm Weber Shandwick found that nearly half of Americans think CEOs can influence policy with their activism, while 77% believe CEOs should speak out when their company values are threatened. About 46% said they would be more inclined to buy from a company whose CEO is vocal on social issues they care about.

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For some founders and executives, social responsibility is baked into their company mission. We asked CEOs and founders in a number of industries about the social issues they will pay most attention to in 2019, whether it influences their businesses or not.

Climate change

“In my view, climate change is the issue of our time—it underpins all other issues, including political instability and financial distress. We have seen an exponential increase in climate-related natural disasters in the last three decades, all of which have resulted in devastating economic and social impacts. The need to communicate in an emergency situation is, in part, what inspired me to create goTenna.”—Daniela Perdomo, CEO of mesh networking startup goTenna

Sustainability

“At Material, we constantly think about conscious consumption and how that ties in with sustainability. If we can create products that you will reach for daily that don’t constantly need to be replaced, we can reduce the amount of junk that is out there. We also are, and will continue to push, for as little excess as possible in our packaging. As much as people love the box-within-a-box experience, there’s a lot of waste that is created, so we want to continue to innovate on how to deliver the best experience that is sustainable and recyclable.”—Eunice Byun, CEO of cookware startup Material

“We really believe that the cannabis industry is a catalyst for social change in many areas. It is one of the only last relatively untouched agricultural products and, because of prohibition, we have an amazing ecosystem of small diversified farms that can provide the supply for this country’s cannabis demand. Many of the farmers that we work with cultivate cannabis alongside fruits and vegetables, as cannabis is the subsidy that allows the farms to stay afloat. In addition to distributing these independent farmers’ cannabis statewide [in California], Flow Kana has also begun to purchase the fruits and vegetables grown on these farms to provide our more than 215 employees with monthly CSA [community-supported agriculture] boxes as an employee perk. As a result, Flow Kana is the largest purchaser of local fruits and vegetables in Mendocino County. This is only the beginning of a much larger decentralized agriculture movement that the cannabis industry has the opportunity to lead.”—Michael Steinmetz, CEO of cannabis startup Flow Kana

Gun violence

“I will be stepping into the role of a mother in 2019, and the safety of my child will be one of my top priorities. I want my future daughter to feel safe and free from gun violence. Kids should feel comfortable going to a movie theater or playground, and school shooting drills should not be the norm. This next year I want to speak up to stop the senseless tragedies we experience all too frequently at the hands of automatic weapons.”—Ariel Kaye, CEO of bedding startup Parachute

Equal access to healthcare

“One of the biggest social issues of our time is that black women are dying at an alarming rate from doing something so natural and important—giving birth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The risk of pregnancy-related deaths for black women is three to four times higher than those of white women.” This is a national crisis that we must address with an overhaul of our healthcare system, as 50% of pregnancy-related deaths of black women are preventable. Black women have the right to live a full and dignified life, so change is needed to combat the implicit bias that is present in maternal health.”—Tristan Walker, CEO of health and beauty startup Walker & Company 

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Social mobility

“The Sweeten platform we are creating is designed with social mobility in mind for our general contractors. There isn’t a clear upward career path for Uber drivers to ascend to management within the company—but we’re seeing, for example, small general contractor firms capitalize on their Sweeten business volume to grow their firms.—Jean Brownhill, CEO of renovation startup Sweeten

Workplace diversity

“We pride ourselves on the diversity of our teams, and that means not only having people from different ethnic backgrounds, but individuals born in different countries. We have immigrants with visas and even Dreamers. A personal and company focus in 2019 will be on how to support our team and future members who desire to truly do amazing work but are caught in the crosshairs in terms of immigration issues within this country.”—Jessica O. Matthews, CEO of energy company Uncharted Power

“The proportional representation of Black and Latinx people in tech is always the top social issue I pay attention to, not just because of Code2040’s work, but also because of how much we are collectively starting to understand the power that is being wielded in the tech industry. I’m curious to see if folks can help connect the dots about the dangers of tech’s power in the absence of a diverse workforce.”—Karla Monterroso, CEO of the diversity nonprofit Code2040

“Something I’m very attuned to because of my background working in female-driven entrepreneurial environments, and now in my own experience of being a female entrepreneur, is how to encourage young women professionally. In some ways I’m the poster child of ‘having it all’ because I’m a new mother and founder of a young, disruptive business. But I’m able to do these things in large part because I have an incredible support system surrounding me–from an amazingly involved partner in my husband, to an awesome nanny, to my team in New York that appreciates the value I bring to the business as a mother. Given the support I’ve received throughout my career, it’s important for me to do the same and contribute to an entrepreneurial ecosystem that empowers women at all levels.”—Nidhi Kapur, CEO of furniture startup Maiden Home

Sexual misconduct

“I’m focused on helping to end one of the most widespread forms of abuse against women: violence and harassment in the world of work. More than one-third of the world’s countries do not have any laws prohibiting sexual harassment at work, leaving a staggering 235 million women vulnerable in the workplace. With our #ThisIsNotWorking campaign, CARE has been pushing governments and employers to form an agreement with trade unions and adopt a strong International Labor Organization Convention (ILO)–the first of its kind–to end violence and harassment in the world of work. Since the campaign launched last March, we’ve gotten almost 100,000 signatures on a petition calling on the ILO to create the global treaty. We have seen the power of the #MeToo movement here in the U.S., and I hope that 2019 will be a year of increased mobilization for women to stand together around the world to end sexual harassment and gender-based violence.”—Michelle Nunn, CEO of humanitarian aid organization Care 

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About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.

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