Innovations That Inspire

Bentley-Gallup Business in Society Initiative: Helping Business Leaders Meet the Moment

Recognition Year(s): 2024
School: Bentley University
Location: United States

Business can be a force for good in the world—but do Americans agree with this statement? The Bentley-Gallup Business in Society initiative is influencing the dialogue around the role and expectations of business in today’s world.

Call to Action

The World Economic Forum’s Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership states: “Society is best served by corporations that have aligned their goals to serve the long-term goals of society.” As a university that has long heralded the idea that businesses can and should be making a positive and meaningful difference in society, especially through the work of its nationally recognized Hoffman Center for Business Ethics, Bentley seeks to inform the future dialogue regarding the intersection of business and society.

We know businesses can create positive value for the communities and individuals they serve, changing lives and transforming the world for the better. But is that how businesses and their leaders are perceived? To find out, we launched a partnership with Gallup Inc., one of the most-respected polling companies in the U.S., known worldwide for its research and public opinion polls. Our common goal was to (1) better understand individual and collective attitudes toward businesses and (2) explore the influence of business in society. We intended the results to have a direct impact on how business leaders lead, by providing them with data to offer a renewed sense of the importance of business’s role in society.

Innovation Description

Bentley University partnered with Gallup to explore pressing questions concerning the expectations of business and business leaders, including the public’s perception of whether business is having a positive impact on the world. A steering committee of academic leaders, faculty, and staff is leading the initiative. It is a multiyear partnership, implemented in 2022, with the intention that each successive annual survey will build on the one before it. An initial set of questions is asked every year to track evolving perceptions, while the remainder of the survey is dedicated to the year’s pressing topics, jointly developed by Bentley and Gallup.

In year one, 5,757 U.S. adults were surveyed, with care to ensure inclusion of such subgroups as age, race/ethnicity, income, education level, region, gender, employment status, and industry sector. The survey was conducted in June 2022 and results were revealed that October. The second annual survey, with a sharp focus on businesses’ use of artificial intelligence, employee well-being, and the expectations of businesses to weigh in on current events, was fielded in May 2023 and results were revealed in October 2023. Insights from the report are intended to educate business leaders and the public on the expectations around positive societal change and to ensure businesses and business leaders are meeting the moment.

Innovation Impact

The survey data revealed insights that matter for companies and employers—and to Bentley, a university dedicated to educating the business leaders of tomorrow. Data revealed that people expect more from companies than simply increasing profits and meeting shareholder goals, and this expectation is especially true among millennials and members of Generation Z, our future workforce and consumer base. The survey results provided a platform for Bentley faculty and leadership to share their expertise with such outlets as the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, WBUR, and The Hill. The WSJ highlighted that U.S. residents want businesses to focus on such topics as climate change, pay equity, and healthcare, but to generally avoid taking a stand on sociopolitical issues.

A dinner organized with more than a dozen Boston-area CEOs focused on the findings of this survey, allowing Bentley to “impart new knowledge and build strong partnerships,” consistent with AACSB’s call to business schools to lead boldly. Survey data have also served as the foundation for two panel discussions organized over the past year: one in partnership with the Boston Globe and the other in collaboration with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, both featuring CEOs and C-Suite executives who care deeply about business’s role in society. At Bentley, the data have been used in classroom lectures, a data analytics competition, a variety of campus panels and events, and ongoing faculty research projects.

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