November 11th, 2021

Athena Alliance recently gathered a group of CHROs, heads of learning & development, and Athena members for our monthly CHRO Perspectives to discuss how modern companies can take a stand on the issues facing society. As Levi-Strauss & Co. CHRO Tracy Layney shared, it’s no longer possible for companies to sit on the sidelines. When it comes to issues like climate change or gun control, even staying silent sends a message.

In the discussion, Tracy shared why Levi-Strauss has been an outspoken, value-driven company from the start; how to ensure your stance is institutionalized rather than just being an opinion of the CEO; and how to create an action plan to identify the issues you need to speak up about as a company and do so effectively.

Levi-Strauss: A value-driven enterprise from the start

When Tracy joined Levi-Strauss as CHRO in March 2020, the company already had a long history of taking a stand on important topics. Founded in 1853, the company has been outspoken on issues ranging from racial justice to LGBTQ rights to gun violence prevention. They desegregated their factories long before the Civil Rights Act, and were early supports of LGBTQ rights as early as the late ‘80s.

More recently, in 2016, Levi-Strauss’ CEO spoke out in favor of gun control after a gun-related incident in one of their stores. He posted an open letter advocating for immediate action, and followed it up with years of advocacy. As Tracy explained, this was a no-brainer for the company.

“We’ve taken a stance that is very much aligned with the entire US population,” she said during the event. “The vast majority of Americans, 84%, believe in common-sense gun laws like background checks, including 70% of Republicans… and 58% of Americans are going to be impacted by gun violence in their lifetimes.”

Five tips to remember as your company takes a stand

  1. Develop a framework for whether you will take a stand on an issue. “Outline, even on a piece of paper, your framework for making that decision,” Tracy said. “If you don’t have any framework, the events of the world are going to come at you.” This may not be extremely detailed—saying “we will advocate for X by doing Y.” Rather, it requires you to ask the right questions. What are you standing for? Why are you taking this stance? Who are you representing by taking this stance? Are you not representing any of your constituents by taking this stance? What are the potential risks and rewards? If you decide to take a stance, what is the single next step you will take?
  2. Connect your stance back to your company’s mission and values. “It helps to be anchored to something that you’re very clear on,” Tracy said. “It’s not going to tell you exactly ‘weigh in on X, but not on Y…’ but if we’ve been taking a stand on things related to equity, as an example, then when there’s a group that’s being oppressed, we are going to say something.”
  3. Poll your different constituent groups (your customers, your industry broadly, and most importantly your employees) to understand their stance and get them involved.
  4. Accept that there will be pushback. Inevitably, your stance will alienate some people. Knowing that, planning for the potential fallout, But I think there’s almost no issue that you can take that people aren’t going to disagree with you, and taking into account and understanding what that potential blowback could be, and then making a decision that still feels right for you.
  5. Once you take a stand, take action. “Now, what are you going to do about it?” Tracy asked. “That’s all fine, those are just words. What actions are you taking to make your workplace more diverse, to make your workplace more inclusive, to have more influence in the world?” Many of these actions will be internal, supporting your employees and having difficult conversations on the micro-level. “We do a lot more internally than we even do externally,” Tracy said. There is a time and place “for internal versus external, and for social media versus advocacy.” Weigh which actions are appropriate at the right time to back up your stance.

As a next step, Tracy recommends sitting down for an intentional conversation with your leadership team. What are the things that are happening in society that are actually fundamental to your business and its success? How does that issue affect you and your constituents, and how can you affect it? Then, what should you do about it?

Join us for the next CHRO Perspectives—part fireside chat, part Q&A discussion focusing wholly on executive development trends, workforce management, and human capital thought leadership from top HR leaders.

Athena members can watch the full recording here.



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