More and more, companies are failing to ask and answer this basic question. And that c-suite level failure is wreaking havoc on fundamental American values like free speech, religious freedom, and civil discourse. Powerful companies—particularly in the tech and financial services industries—have emerged as de facto gatekeepers of essential services. Relying on politically derived and ideologically motivated goals, these companies are, perhaps inadvertently, undermining trust and the institutions of democratic self-government.
That’s an inevitable consequence when powerful companies engage in censorship, enable cancel culture inside their organizations, or take divisive stands on controversial political issues.
This is why we’ve launched Viewpoint Diversity Score. Businesses have an ethical responsibility to respect customers, employees, and other stakeholders who hold a wide diversity of social viewpoints and perspectives. At the core of this collaborative project is our annual Business Index—the first comprehensive benchmark designed to measure corporate respect for religious and ideological diversity in the market, workplace, and public square.
Respecting everyone, regardless of their religious or ideological beliefs, is good for business and society. Companies that respect viewpoint diversity are better equipped to serve people and communities with diverse values, recruit and retain top talent, build trust with key stakeholders, and contribute to a public culture that supports liberal democracy and open markets.
The Business Index outlines steps companies can take to reduce potential harms to business, public trust, and the democratic norms of free speech and religious freedom. It also recommends policies and practices they can adopt to bolster their reputations as businesses that respect viewpoint diversity across their enterprise.
Let’s take a deeper look at the Business Index, its findings, and our recommendations.
True diversity requires protecting freedom of expression and belief for employees, customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders. Accordingly, the Business Index evaluates a wide range of corporate policies, practices, and activities to determine whether companies respect these fundamental freedoms as a standard part of doing business.
The Business Index evaluates companies’ social footprints within three categories of activity – market, workplace, and public square – to determine each firm’s score.
- The Market section evaluates whether companies’ policies and practices respect the freedom of expression and belief of customers, users, sellers, creators, and other external stakeholders.
- The Workplace section measures corporate respect for freedom of thought and religious diversity in their workforces, and whether companies proactively prohibit religious discrimination.
- The Public Square section evaluates whether corporate giving practices and public advocacy broadly respect free speech, religious tolerance, and open discourse.
Each section is comprised of a series of questions that are scored based on specific criteria. Data is sourced from publicly available information and company disclosures. You can peruse our methodology for full details.
While viewpoint diversity matters for any business, the Business Index focuses on industries that have the greatest potential to impact free speech and religious freedom. These include industries that provide essential banking, payment processing, and cloud services, or that serve as platforms for third-party expression in the digital space. The inaugural Business Index scores 50 companies.
There is no way to sugarcoat it—the results of the inaugural Business Index are deeply concerning. Benchmarked companies scored an average of 12% overall on respecting religious and ideological diversity in the market, workplace, and public square. This is especially concerning given that these companies represent some of the largest businesses in America and provide essential services to millions of people and organizations every day. While no industry performed well, there were a handful that scored particularly poorly. The two industries with the lowest overall scores were computer software at 6%, and internet services and retailing at 8%. The financial and data services industry also came in at a low overall average score of 11%. These lackluster results paint a grim picture of Corporate America’s respect for religious and ideological diversity.
One finding of particular concern is that social media companies, which provide services critical to the freedom of individuals and groups to participate equally in the digital public square, are concentrated in an industry – internet services and retailing – that averaged the second-lowest average score overall. Not surprisingly, nearly all of those companies are among the lowest performers across all industries.
If you’d like to take a closer look at the results, we recommend our Business Index webpage, which provides in-depth scores for each company. You can also download our Annual Report, which summarizes our overall findings and recommendations.
While the results of the inaugural Business Index are disconcerting, there is cause for some optimism. Several companies demonstrated a particularly strong commitment to viewpoint diversity in specific areas that they and others can build on. For example, Truist affirms that it “respects the constitutional and civil rights of all individuals and the companies they own or represent, including the freedom of speech and freedom of religion” and that it “will not discriminate against any supplier or service provider based upon the exercise of these rights and expects its suppliers and service providers to select subcontractors on a nondiscriminatory basis as well.”
This language earned Truist full points on the Business Index’s questions about whether companies respect the freedom of suppliers and vendors. It also exemplifies a crucial way companies can respect the diverse views of their stakeholders—a broader theme that the index seeks to inspire companies to adopt across their enterprises.
There are many simple actions companies can take that would immediately increase their scores on the Business Index. The easiest path to a higher score is to review our methodology, which contains the questions and scoring criteria that comprise the index. The scoring criteria specifies the policy a company should adopt or practice it should eliminate to get full points for each question. Here are three actions businesses can take immediately to improve their scores:
1) Respond to the annual Viewpoint Diversity Survey.
Our Index co-partner, Inspire Insight, sends the survey to businesses each year in the Fall. Seventeen questions on the Business Index are scored solely based on answers to the survey. Numerous other questions rely in part on survey responses. Yet only two out of 50 companies—Paychex and Truist—provided substantive responses.
Although neither company earned a particularly high score, they rank No. 1 and 2, respectively, on the 2022 Business Index. Companies can significantly increase their chances of receiving a higher score on the Business Index simply by responding to the survey.
2) Eliminate religious discrimination in employee matching gift programs.
The Business Index found that 40% of companies had policies that exclude or threaten to exclude charities from employee matching gift programs based on their religious status, practices, or advocacy. Companies should honor every employee’s desire to make a positive difference in the world through charitable giving, including religious employees. Barring gifts to religious charities sends a message of exclusion; it tells religious employees that they should leave their faith—a defining aspect of their life—at home.
3) Eliminate vague language from terms of service, content moderation, or other policies that regulate content or access to services.
The Business Index found that 48 percent of companies maintain policies that include unclear and imprecise terms that could be used to deny service or censor content for viewpoint based, arbitrary, or even unknown reasons. While private businesses are free to establish reasonable requirements for accessing and using their services, it’s important to minimize the potential for censorship or discrimination by avoiding vague, sweeping restrictions on third-party speech and conduct. Doing so reduces the risk of unduly burdening expressive freedoms, while also protecting against potential damage to brand trust.
The Business Index recommends additional model policies and practical strategies that companies can adopt to increase their score on the index and their reputations as businesses committed to respecting people who hold a wide diversity of views.
If you’re like most Americans, you’re increasingly concerned that the concentration of private power is an equal or greater threat to free speech and religious freedom than government power. This is especially true when it comes to the digital communications, banking, and financial services industries. People and organizations should not fear that they will be censored online, lose access to their bank accounts, or be denied access to other essential business services simply because of their religious or political views. While some may cheer particular cases of censorship when they are aimed at their perceived opponents, history has taught us again and again that censorship inevitably, and often quickly, turns against its proponents and is used to silence them and the ideas and views they care about as well.
The Business Index is designed to rein in these threats and promote a business culture that respects customers and other stakeholders’ freedom of expression and belief, fosters viewpoint diversity in the workplace, and reflects a commitment to the underlying principles of American democracy.
Subscribe to our News and Commentary to learn more about what you can do to urge businesses to support free speech and religious freedom.