Bentley Partners with Boston Globe to Host Discussion with Executives from State Street, Deloitte, Liberty Mutual about the Role of Business in Society
Business leaders gathered at WBUR CitySpace in Boston to discuss findings of the newly released Bentley-Gallup Force for Good Survey, which polled over 5,000 Americans about the potential of businesses to make a positive impact on society. The livestreamed event featured a panel discussion with top executives from State Street, Deloitte and Liberty Mutual moderated by Bentley President E. LaBrent Chrite, as well as an overview of the survey results and insights into how the report will help guide the future of good business.
“Americans today expect more from the private sector than mere profitability and shareholder wealth creation,” Chrite said. “The bottom line and financial viability are of course still paramount; businesses must in fact pass the market test. But that may no longer be enough for long-term competitiveness and profitability. Americans expect businesses to be aware of and act upon the important role that they can and should assume in moving society forward. And they’re willing to reward the ones that do that with their business and with their loyalty. It appears increasingly that doing good is good business.”
Read the survey highlights
“We asked individuals to weigh in on a series of factors that we thought business should be and often are focused on,” Stephanie Marken, executive director of education research at Gallup, said in opening remarks highlighting findings from the survey. “Overwhelmingly, employee respect came to the top of that list. Also, among those top priorities for individuals was businesses making money in ethical ways.”
The survey measured Americans’ perceptions of business today and provided insight into future trends. For example, 71% of Americans aged 18-29, who represent the future of the nation’s workforce and consumer base, said they would switch jobs to work for an organization that has a greater impact on the world — more than double the percent of older Americans.
ATTRACTING THE NEXT GENERATION WITH PURPOSE
The panel included Melanie Foley, MBA ’02, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Liberty Mutual Insurance; Ron O’Hanley, CEO at State Street; and Alicia Rose, deputy CEO of strategic initiatives at Deloitte US. Chrite led the discussion on topics ranging from how businesses can attract and retain young employees to the role of DEI in the growth of the workplace.
“How can we even envision a global economy continuing to grow if we don’t marry purpose and profit?” Foley asked. “Every company needs to understand: What is their purpose? What were you created to do? How have you evolved that — and what would the world be like if you didn’t exist? And help your employees or customers see the value and the reason why you exist.”
“It is a very informed generation, and we should take advantage of that and recognize that we have an obligation to be equally transparent to them,” O’Hanley said. “It’s also a generation, because of this information, that is increasingly trying to understand, ‘what is the purpose of my work?’ and therefore, ‘what is the purpose of the firm that I'm working for?’”
WHEN SHOULD BUSINESS TAKE A STAND?
The conversation shifted to the debate over companies speaking out on timely issues given that the survey found that, while 59% of Americans aged 18-29 think businesses should speak out on current events, Americans overall are more evenly divided.
Rose said she found it interesting that Americans are nearly even on whether companies should speak out about current events, with 48% in favor and 52% against. “That summed up a lot of the tension that leaders have experienced over the past couple of years trying to recognize: when should we speak up and what should we say?” she said. “It’s important for organizations to reflect on how they're going to make these choices so they can be consistent.”
Foley shared examples of initiatives at Liberty Mutual that help employees engage with challenging topics. “There are a lot of issues out there that are very polarizing, but we’ve found that letting our employees have space to have conversations within our walls has actually been a way to take action, to say: We’re going to provide forums through our employee resource groups so that you can either get yourself educated on these matters or find support from others. Rather than taking a position, we’ve provided a platform for people to have conversations.”
EQUITY & INCLUSION: BUSINESS OR GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBILITY?
Another survey finding detailed respondents’ attitudes toward how much responsibility for doing social good lies with businesses vs. the government. For example, 83% of people say businesses should create opportunities for low socioeconomic groups.
“Business is not a substitute for government and business is not a substitute for good policymaking,” O’Hanley said. “On the other hand, there are areas where we can make a difference … Over the course of the long term, you can’t get away with mistreating your employees, mistreating your supply chain, not investing in the communities that you’re in —and then wonder why you’re not getting good employees.”
Foley weighed in on the role of business and public policy related to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, which can be an important tool for businesses to lead the way on social change — impacting both internal corporate cultures and broader communities.
“We believe that it’s an all-hands-on deck problem when you’re talking about equity and opportunity, and I do believe that we can lead by example but we also need partnerships,” Foley said, citing an example of businesses working with public school systems to implement career development programs.
Rose agreed on the value of partnerships. “The complexity of the issues that we’re all trying to solve will take everyone: the organizations, the corporations, the government, the nonprofit sector, the universities. It will take everyone, and it will take a long time. Building that trust with each other and continuing it is critical.”
Responding to the survey finding that 73% of respondents said it is “somewhat” or “extremely” important to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, Foley continued: “The business case has been made for DEI; it’s good for business. It makes you more innovative, it aligns your employee population with the customers that you’re trying to serve.”
The panel concluded with a question from Bentley Finance major Samantha Lovering ’23 about companies’ efforts to enforce gender equity and inclusion at the entry level, particularly in male-dominated industries. Employee onboarding, training, accountability, transparency and mentorship and sponsorship for young employees were common themes among the panelists’ answers.
Rose offered this advice. “When you get to where you are in the organization, I encourage you to share your ideas, to raise your voice so that you share it in the everyday actions with the managers and the folks you’re working with every day.”