I have just returned from Silicon Valley where we launched an Edelman Trust Barometer special report on California. Here are a few observations for tech industry companies to consider at a time when they have come under fire both internally and externally.
- Tech Is Expected to Address Local Issues — According to our Edelman Trust Barometer special report on California, there are growing expectations of tech companies to address local issues (up from 75 percent to 81 percent). One of these pressing issues is housing, with 76 percent of Bay Area respondents saying that it is now a pressing issue for their communities. Watch for something akin to what Microsoft did a month ago in Seattle in providing $500 million for middle-income housing for police, firefighters and teachers.
- Tech Needs to Pay Attention to Social Issues — Again, three-quarters of respondents said that tech companies have an obligation to improve societal issues. At the top of the list is education, in particular job training that gives technical skills for jobs of the future. Over half of Californians believe more jobs will be lost than created due to advancements in technology.
- Tech Employees Have Great Expectations of Their Employers — Eighty-five percent of tech employees in the Bay Area say that their employer has an obligation to improve societal issues and fix local problems such as homelessness.
- Tech Workers Do Not Believe in Self-Regulation — Seventy percent of respondents told us that the tech industry has been under-regulated. Ninety-four percent of tech employees say that tech companies have an obligation to protect their customers’ data. In fact, the World Economic Forum is predicting that 2019 will be the Year of Tech Policy.
- Who Will Pay for Re-training? — The tech start-ups say that they just need to make enough money to satisfy investors, even if their AI platforms will make many jobs redundant. The companies implementing the technology seem to be interested in re-training only those who will stay on.
- Cannot Wait for Government — The experience with GDPR indicates that government will be late and will over-regulate in response to voter protest. It would be far better for innovators to propose a workable regulatory scheme that is vetted by the public. As a general proposition, tech companies focus more on policy issues at home (in the U.S.) and lack a consistent framework for ex-U.S. public affairs.
- Need More Effective Way to Surface Employee Sentiment — Walkouts over #MeToo as well as concerns about certain government contracts were important lessons for Silicon Valley in that there must be more formal procedures to monitor employee views. When Salesforce employees raised concern, via an open letter, to leadership over the company’s contract with CBP, CEO Marc Benioff declined to cancel the contract but created their Office of Ethics and appointed a Chief Ethics Officer.
The tech industry is challenging many of our fundamental assumptions. This is not about branding or marketing alone; the core business model of Artificial Intelligence is disrupting traditional work flows, while robots will replace routine tasks. In today’s Financial Times, Nitin Nohria, dean of Harvard Business School, said, “The world is demanding a new type of business leader, one who is good for the bottom line but also for the world. One who is pragmatic, open-minded and adaptable, yet who is deeply committed to values and ethics.” The CEOs of these companies are now fighting the perfect storm of populism, from wealth distribution to job loss to the mistreatment of women. If Trust at Work is the new mantra, then it is time for a game change for these visionary companies.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.