Published 4 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Natalie Chaney (via Unsplash)
The mass population is far more skeptical of institutions than the informed public, only one in five people believes the system is working for them, and large majorities express a sense of injustice and a desire for change.
Those findings from the 2019 Edelman Trust
Barometer prompted this comment from
Stephen Kehoe, the company’s global chair for reputation: “Divergent levels
of confidence between the mass population and informed public about the future
signal a continued underlying rot in the structure of society. While not
everyone is taking to the streets, the data shows why protests such as the
in France, the women’s
in India and walkouts by employees at some major tech companies could become
That’s one plausible reading. Digging into the data, another is: There’s never
been a more open door for businesses committed to good governance and positive
social and environmental impacts.
Edelman’s annual survey — which asks people around the world how much they trust
NGOs, business, government and media — found a gap of 16 points between the mass
population’s trust in those institutions as a group (49 percent trust) and the
informed public’s (65 percent trust). This is a return to the record set in
The explanation is partly hidden by Edelman’s startlingly elitist labels: The
firm defines the “informed public” as people aged 25-64 who are
college-educated, have household incomes in the top 25 percent for their age
group and market, and report significant media consumption and engagement in
public policy and business news — a group that amounts to 16 percent of the
global population. Only the last factor is clearly related to being informed
(the US Congress is rife with college-educated people who purport to believe
climate change is a hoax); the masses and the informed essentially break
down into the haves and the have-nots.
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It’s no surprise that the demographic running our major institutions has the
most trust in them. However, both the trust and the gap collapse when the
question is, “Is the system working for me?” About the same low percentage in
both groups (20 and 21 percent) said yes. People in general are hungry for real
Another factor contributing to the trust disparity, Edelman notes, is gender.
Women overall express less trust than men, especially in developed countries.
And the gap is widest when it comes to business — in the US, women’s trust in
business is 15 points lower than men’s.
“Women are not seeing women in charge in
or as highly valued as men. Does this undermine their faith?” asks Carol
Potter, president and CEO of
Edelman Europe & CIS.
As a woman, I feel safe going with “yes.” We are also seeing women harassed and
assaulted at work — often with little or no penalty for the perpetrators — so,
maybe that, too. Potter wonders if we should “dial up talking about our purpose,
our intentions and our integrity when we talk to women as our employees or our
customers.” Only if that talk is backed up by action. Businesses with a visible
commitment to diversity and
— demonstrated by pay equity, advancement and respectful working conditions —
will earn trust and be rewarded for it.
Edelman’s barometer shows rising support for sustainable business practices and
generally. Globally, 73 percent of those surveyed agreed that “a company can
take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and
social conditions in the communities where it operates.” That’s a 9-point jump.
US agreement climbed 3 points, to 74 percent.
Among respondents worldwide, 67 percent said it’s important that “My employer
has a greater
and my job has a meaningful societal impact.” The percent who said “CEOs should
take the lead on
change rather than
waiting for government to impose it” rose 11 points, to 76 percent. And 71
percent of employees agreed it’s “critically important for my CEO to respond to
related to political events and national crises, as well as employee-driven and
industry issues. Edelman calls employers “a trusted partner for change,” noting
that 75 percent of respondents overall (and 72 percent of the mass population)
trust their employer, compared with 56 percent overall who trust business
Again, realizing benefits from corporate purpose statements and advocacy depends
on authenticity. That mission better feel real and be real, and that
leadership position better be rooted in a real engagement with the issue at
hand. If sustainable companies are going to burst through the open door to
restore trust and own the economy, we need to be sure our actions live up to our
words. And we need to support, defend and promote standards (such as B Corp
that help people separate the real from the counterfeit.
Published Mar 7, 2019 7pm EST / 4pm PST / 12am GMT / 1am CET
Sandra Stewart is a principal at Thinkshift Communications — a B Corp-certified messaging and PR firm focused exclusively on purpose-driven enterprises.