After everything that's been going on for the last few years--MeToo, Black Lives Matter, guns, racism, income inequality, and however more--you'd think companies that wanted to attract the public would get serious.

But still, CEOs insist on "good news" rather than reality. In mergers and acquisitions, companies are increasingly using a "Weinstein clause" to hedge against offensive and criminal sexual predatory behavior by executives. Consumers--particularly younger ones--want to do business with culturally relevant companies.

To that end, seeing a non-profit like >JUST Capital ">annual ranking of companies that do the most to "stop prioritizing shareholders and instead put workers, customers, communities, and the environment at the heart of just business practices."

For entrepreneurs, the important thing isn't the collection of winning companies but, instead, the list of preferences different stakeholder groups say are important. Here are some examples with the percentage of times people in the group mentioned them:

  • Employees are interested in a fair wage (6.5percent), a living wage (5.7percent), benefits and work-life balance (5.3percent), equal opportunity (4.7percent), career development (3.4percent), a safe workplace (2.7percent), workplace transparency (1.8percent), and CEO pay reasonable in comparison to workers (1.2percent).
  • Shareholders want leadership that acts ethically (5.8percent), compliance with laws and regulations (4.0percent), and returns for investors (1.2percent).
  • Customers are looking for beneficial products (4.7percent), safe and reliable products (4.5percent), protection of customer privacy (3.3percent), fair product prices (3.1percent), fair and inclusive treatment of customers (3.0 percent), honest advertising (2.9 percent), and positive customer service (2.6 percent).

To paraphrase what they used to tell us in math classes years ago, finding the interests of communities and environment is left as an exercise for the reader. (The link on "annual ranking of companies" above will lead you to it.)

There are some interesting similarities across employees, shareholders, and groups. None of them are asking about getting an outrageous deal. Employees want fairness in wages, an ability for work-life balance, equal opportunity, safety, and transparency. Even with CEO pay, no one seems to be saying that the person shouldn't earn a lot, just that there should be a reasonable comparison to workers. (My take is that when CEOs get many more times in compensation what ordinary workers get, it's like saying that they don't matter. As if the workers could all leave and the CEO would somehow keep things steady.)

Shareholders want returns, but they're more interested in ethical and legal behavior. They want the company to do what is right--and then they want to make some money. Customers want quality products and fair prices. They also want to be treated with respect and get service when needed.

Not a single one of these categories showed an overwhelming amount of support. But it's more that these were the top categories and concern was spread among them in the people being asked.

Young companies and their leadership can sometimes feel that everyone is out to get them, that everyone is thinking of themselves. And they are, to an extent. But maybe not unreasonably.

Workers, shareholders/investors, and customers think seriously about whether they're being treated fairly and if the company is acting in an honorable manner. Ethics and morality don't get the largest amounts of attention in discussions of business. But maybe they should get much more than they're receiving. If that's what three of the most important types of stakeholders a company has want, it might be good business to give them that.

Published on: Nov 13, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.