Why Socially Divisive Issues Have No Place in Business

With Telstra infamously flipping - and then backflipping - on same-sex marriage these past two weeks, Australians are certainly feeling the frustration and tension on both sides. But this issue begs a broader question: should corporations risk alienating large percentages of their customers by putting out a public stance on such contentious social issues like same-sex marriage?

Tom Elliott of the Herald Sun argues that Telstra should have kept quiet about the matter and avoided wading into the controversial waters of social and political activism in the first place.

Apparently Telstra think its support of gay marriage is consistent with the beliefs held by hundreds of thousands of people who work at, and own shares in, the company.

I’m a shareholder of Telstra. And I resent the company making such moral judgments on my behalf.

What I want Telstra to do is focus on flogging smartphones and broadband connections to as many Australians as possible. I also think it should prepare itself for the serious challenge internet TV businesses like Netflix are posing to increasingly archaic incumbents like Foxtel (part-owned by Telstra).

In short, Telstra has its work cut out staying ahead of rivals. Why waste time and money backflipping over gay marriage?

With roughly half of Australians strongly favoring marriage between one man and one woman, did Telstra really think it was a smart business move to alienate half of its customer base, regardless of how it sided? When a large corporation decides to use its platform for social activism, overriding the beliefs of customers and shareholders, there are consequences.

Sometime, all Australian adults will be given the chance to vote on same-sex marriage. If the plebiscite returns a positive result, it is then highly likely the government will legislate to alter the Marriage Act.

Telstra won’t receive a vote on this issue, and nor should it. Companies are not the moral guardians of human decision making.

Rather than being told what to think, Telstra’s directors, employees, suppliers and customers should, just like the rest of us, make up their own minds as individuals.

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