By Brian Ganson, Tony L. He, and Witold J. Henisz

Managers are increasingly challenged by issues as diverse as climate change, globalization, pandemic response, and inclusive development. However, a key complication in addressing these challenges effectively is that they impact different groups across racial, ethnic, cultural, economic, and other socially constructed boundaries unequally.

Across the globe, ethnic minorities and the global poor are more vulnerable to climate-related hazards. In advanced economies, people of color are more likely to die from a COVID-19 related cause compared to white citizens. In some emerging markets, rural elites with access to credit have capitalized on the world’s growing demand for vegetable oils while smallholders without such access are often forced to sell their lands and turn to low-wage labor.

These differential outcomes restrict intergroup dialogue and cooperation and lead to grievances and competition that can escalate into destructive conflicts, undermining our ability to address collective challenges. Therefore, managers who seek to advance a sustainable society must contend with how firm strategies might exacerbate or mitigate intergroup divides.

In a recent article“Us” and “them”: Corporate strategic activism, horizontal inequalities, and society’s capacity to address its grand challenges—we explain how firms can impact intergroup divisions whether positively or negatively, intentionally or not. Firms choose not only how to allocate resources such as jobs, infrastructure investments, and contracts but also how to manage the relationships with and between stakeholders. If these choices increase social, economic, or political inequalities between identity groups, they can exacerbate intergroup conflicts and lower the potential for dialogue and consensus.

We therefore provide a set of recommendations for managers on how to design socially inclusive strategies in both the nonmarket and market realms.

How to Design Socially Inclusive Strategies In The Market Realm

Good Practice

  • Hire and source from members of disadvantaged groups

Best Practices

  • Reshape relationships that allow group members to connect with better opportunities
  • Leverage the diversity that group members bring to add value to other stakeholders
  • Forge richer intra- and inter-organizational networks


Example: CVS’s Pathways to Health Care Career programs extend beyond its efforts to promote a diverse workforce. These programs deepen relationships and pathways to employment not only between CVS and members of disadvantaged groups, but also between these group members and other CVS stakeholders. Specifically, CVS works in partnership with government (e.g., U.S. Department of Labor as well as state and local agencies), civil society (e.g., faith-based organizations), and academic institutions to enhance the diversity of talent into careers not only in which CVS is an employer (e.g., pharmacists) but also, more broadly, in the entire health care sector (e.g., nurses, doctors and scientists).

How to Design Socially Inclusive Strategies Within The Nonmarket Realm

Good Practice

  • Make political contributions to support inclusive policies

Best Practices

  • Engage with preexisting organizations working to address horizontal inequalities rather than supplanting them with corporate-led coalitions or initiatives
  • Add legitimacy and support to efforts that reshape the conversation around progressive taxation and public infrastructure from a debate over “government interference in capitalism” or “the provision of unfair handouts” to a conversation around “government policies and programs in support of justice”

Example in addressing economic inclusion: The NinetyToZero campaign is a collective effort between corporations and civil society organizations to reduce the 90% wealth gap between White and Black Americans. Firms such as American Express and Goldman Sachs are partnering with groups such as the ACLU and United Way to increase access to capital for Black-owned and Black-led businesses.

Example in addressing social/political inclusion: Recognizing that many inequalities stem from political processes that have been historically unjust and exclusionary, firms can join and support coalitions to ensure equal access to, and participation in, political processes from national to community elections. Firms that have joined Fair Fight in Georgia, The Black Economic Alliance’s “Stand for Democracy”, or Fair Elections Texas are highlighting the importance of both greater equality in economic resources and political voice and participation.
As calls to address collective social challenges increase in urgency, managers with an understanding of the resulting responsibility, opportunity, and risks to firms and to the broader society of their corporate strategic activism not only gain a competitive advantage over market rivals but also can help advance intergroup cooperation on issues that concern us all. This requires, however, an engaged and inclusive strategy-setting process centered on the building of sufficient coalitions for positive change, which itself becomes a form of, and forum for, positive corporate activism.

About the Authors:
Brian Ganson is a Professor and Head of the Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement at USB, Stellenbosch Business School. Tony L. He is a doctoral student in Applied Economics at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Witold J. Henisz is a Professor of Management at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Us” and “them”: Corporate strategic activism, horizontal inequalities, and society’s capacity to address its grand challenges, Global Strategy Journal:

Published Date
02 April 2022

Article Type
Article Press Release, Article Summary/Abstract


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