The executive order issued by President Trump on Friday, which temporarily barred refugees and citizens of seven designated countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—from entering the US, has been met with some criticism from the ranks of America’s corporate leaders. In statements to employees and to the press, many CEOs have expressed concern that either the order itself or the new administration’s more restrictive approach to immigration in general will be disruptive to business and harmful to their ability to hire and retain talent, as well as their diversity and inclusion initiatives. The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor gives an overview of corporate America’s reaction to the president’s polarizing order:
“Employees do hold their CEOs and leadership accountable for defending those values when the line has been crossed,” said Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber-Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist. After years of communicating and focusing on diversity and inclusion as a corporate value, she says, CEOs “do feel under a lot of pressure right now, and are trying to figure out what to say about Trump’s ban and how to speak to their employees. They’ve set a high bar and an expectation that diversity really matters. That is adding a lot of firepower to getting CEOs to speak up.”
Some of the statements from CEOs have included not only concerns but personal reflections. “I am deeply concerned, as many of you are, with this fracture in our society,” wrote MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, who was born in India. “I am an immigrant into this wonderful country. I came here midway through my career and have over the past years made this my home and pledged my allegiance to all that the Constitution stands for.” …
Other statements reflected an urgency to reassure employees who had spoken up with concerns. “I want to thank all those who have reached out to me in the last 48 hours or so sharing your views,” wrote Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman of PwC. “I have heard heartbreaking stories of people who had to cancel plans to visit loved ones or have friends who were outside the country when the order was issued and are not able to re-enter. Some have also written simply to share their fear, concern and desire to help those who need help.”
Silicon Valley tech companies, already more than a little anxious about how Trump’s potential immigration policies will impact their workforces, came out particularly strongly against the order, with Microsoft stressing its support for “a strong and balanced high-skilled immigration system” in an official statement to all employees, which CEO Satya Nadella underscored in a LinkedIn post:
As an immigrant and as a CEO, I’ve both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world. We will continue to advocate on this important topic.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke out in opposition to the order on Facebook, while Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey tweeted that its “humanitarian and economic impact is real and upsetting.” Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees over the weekend that over 100 Googlers were directly affected by the order and had been asked by the company to return to the U.S. immediately. He also said that Google would continue to advocate for more open immigration policies, as Bloomberg notes:
“It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues,” Pichai wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. “We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.” …
“We’re concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that create barriers to bringing great talent to the U.S. We’ll continue to make our views on these issues known to leaders in Washington and elsewhere.”
In other statements, several CEOs also stressed the role immigrants had played in building their organizations, such as Apple CEO Tim Cook in his email to all employees on Saturday:
Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do. I’ve heard from many of you who are deeply concerned about the executive order issued yesterday restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. I share your concerns. It is not a policy we support.
…or Intel CEO Brian Krzanich in his communiqué, which also touched on his own heritage:
First, as the grandson of immigrants and the CEO of a company that was co-founded by an immigrant, we believe that lawful immigration is critical to the future of our company and this nation. …
At Intel we believe that immigration is an important part of our diversity and inclusion efforts. Inclusion is about making everyone feel welcome and a part of our community. There are employees at Intel that are directly affected by this order. The HR and Legal teams are working with them in every way possible and we will continue to support them until their situations are resolved. I know I can count on all of you to role model our culture and support these employees and their families.
For a more extensive look at how tech companies responded to the order, check out this list compiled by The Verge. In addition, the New York Times has collected a range of responses from American companies across several industries. Looking at the overall response of the American public, a Reuters poll released on Tuesday indicated that almost half of Americans support the new policy, with public opinion being largely divided along partisan lines.
For some business leaders, meanwhile, the order has hit close to home. In an interview with CNN’s Seth Fiegerman, Google’s former head of HR Laszlo Bock said his own experience coming to the US as a refugee from communist Romania strongly colored his view of Trump’s executive order. But Bock’s concern is as much professional as it is personal; he’s worried about what this administration’s immigration policies will mean for US companies’ ability to hire the best people:
“It’s an enormous problem,” Bock says of the travel ban. “It doesn’t affect just the seven countries. It sends a powerful signal that this is not a country that wants the best people in the world.” If the travel and immigration crackdown continues, Bock expects larger tech companies may be forced to do more of their hiring in other countries, which effectively “shifts jobs out of America.” …
Bock believes the main reason for the tech industry’s loud response is the direct impact on hiring. “Immigration and refugee rights, but immigration generally, is in many ways easier for business to tackle because it’s tied to employment. Who is going to argue against employment?” he says.
Another notable source of objection to the order is Wall Street, where Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein was the first of several finance CEOs to express concern that it would hurt business performance and diversity, according to Reuters:
In a voicemail to employees on Sunday, Blankfein said diversity was a hallmark of Goldman’s success, and if the temporary freeze became permanent, it could create “disruption” for the bank and its staff. “This is not a policy we support, and I would note that it has already been challenged in federal court, and some of the order has been enjoined at least temporarily,” Blankfein said, according to a transcript seen by Reuters. …
Citigroup CEO Mike Corbat said in a memo to employees on Monday the bank is concerned about “the message the executive order sends” as well as the impact immigration policies might have “on our ability to serve our clients and contribute to growth.” JPMorgan Chase & Co’s operating committee, which includes CEO Jamie Dimon, avoided directly criticizing the policy. In a note to staff over the weekend, the firm said it was reaching out to all employees affected and noted that the country was “strengthened by the rich diversity of the world around us.”
Ford chairman Bill Ford and the company’s CEO Mark Fields have also objected to the order, saying in a statement that it runs counter to their company’s values. Dearborn, Michigan, where Ford is based, is home to an especially large population of people of Arab descent.
Like many other companies, General Motors refrained from criticizing the policy in a companywide memo posted on Sunday, but promised to assist any employee affected by the ban and stressed its commitment to diversity:
At General Motors, we value and respect individual differences. We appreciate what each individual brings to the team, including background, education, gender, race, ethnicity, working and thinking styles, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, religious background, age, generation, disability, cultural expertise and technical skill. Empowering these unique perspectives keeps GM on the cutting edge of technological innovation in the fast-paced automotive industry.
GM CEO Mary Barra sits on Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, a group of CEOs who have agreed to advise the president on economic matters, which also includes J.P. Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, Walmart’s Doug McMillon, PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi, Uber’s Travis Kalanick, and Tesla’s Elon Musk. Kalanick and Musk have spoken out against the order, but they are in the minority among forum members, as Fortune highlights:
Most Forum members have not issued public statements, understandably. Will they speak up privately? That’s exactly what they signed up for. The Trump transition team said last month, “Members of the Forum will be charged with providing their individual views to the President – informed by their unique vantage points in the private sector – on how government policy impacts economic growth, job creation and productivity. The Forum is designed to provide direct input to the President from many of the best and brightest in the business world in a frank, non-bureaucratic and non-partisan manner.” The progress of the immigration storm may give us at least a hint of whether the group is working that way.
For his part, Kalanick announced in a Facebook post that he intends to raise the issue at the forum’s upcoming meeting this Friday.
To read more about how executives can adjust their “HR as PR” strategies in the age of Trump, head here.