Newspaper article

How Risky Is It to Speak out on Such a Controversial Issue?

Newspaper article

How Risky Is It to Speak out on Such a Controversial Issue?

Article excerpt

Marilyn Carlson Nelson is categorical in saying that business has "already voted" against the November ballot measure that would make same-sex marriage unconstitutional in Minnesota. And posed as a work- force issue, few would disagree with her.

But there is a world of difference between creating an inclusive workplace culture and providing GLBT-friendly benefits and taking a firm, public stance on an issue many customers likely view as divisive. Indeed, calls from MinnPost to several major business- sector organizations that routinely lobby on everything from education to energy were met with similar, polite replies that member organizations could go there if they wanted, but the advocacy groups needed to remain neutral.

So just how risky is it for a business leader to speak out on such a hot topic?

The General Mills Chair in Marketing at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, Akshay Rao has to issue a couple of disclaimers before answering: He teaches at an institution named for Carlson Nelson's father, thinks of her as a friend and agrees unabashedly with her feelings on same-sex marriage.

Perhaps not as risky as one might think

All that said, Carlson Nelson's decision was perhaps not as risky as one might think, in his opinion.

"She might get a phone call or two from someone on the Republican side of the aisle," said Rao. "But the odds that this is going to damage her either personally or her corporation are slim."

It is undeniably true that businesses try not to engage in activities that dampen demand for their goods and services. But the corporate chair's very public declaration of her feelings isn't likely to cause people to boycott the company's hotels.

"The risk has already occurred," explained Rao. "It's no secret that Carlson is hospitable to the LGBT community. …

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