Each year, the public relations agency Edelman produces a report on the online public’s trust in social institutions like government, media, and business. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer contains a worrisome finding: While technology was ranked the most trusted industry in the U.S. last year, this year we plunged to ninth place. Trust in the tech industry fell to new lows in the majority of 27 countries surveyed.
Tech can be a huge force for moving the world forward, but many well meaning efforts will run into headwinds if we aren’t able to gain others’ trust. It’s more urgent than ever that we collectively act in a way that is genuinely deserving of the rest of society’s trust.
Trust is much harder to build than to destroy. One company that hypes AI can do more damage than 10 others that speak about it responsibly. One company that makes misleading statements can do more damage than 10 that speak honestly.
How can we regain trust? Several steps are needed, but to my mind, chief among them are:
- Straight talk. I think we’re all tired of hearing tech companies say they’re fighting for small businesses when they’re just fighting for their own bottom line. I realize that no company can address every issue under the sun, but when we speak about something, we owe it to the public to tell it like it is.
- Take responsibility. Tech’s influence on what people see and hear has a huge impact on their perception of reality. Our collective influence on automation has a huge impact on jobs. I hope that each organization will acknowledge the power it has and use it to benefit society.
- Engage and empathize. When someone who is honest and well meaning has a problem with what we do, our first step should be to try to understand their point of view, not to dismiss their concerns. Society has reasonable worries about tech’s concentration of power, fairness, and impact on jobs. Whether we agree or disagree in a certain instance, let's acknowledge the concern and see if we can address it honestly.
Trying to fool the public and government officials doesn’t work. We often read in the news about politicians who know little about tech, and say things that reflect their lack of understanding. But let me tell you this: Every large government has at least a handful of people who are tech-savvy enough to see through the spin to the heart of an issue. Companies shouldn’t try to fool people and instead do the harder — but more effective — work of solving problems thoughtfully.
On the plus side, 62 percent of respondents to Edelman’s survey agreed that employees have the power to force corporations to change. CEO aren’t the only people responsible for what companies do. All employees have a responsibility to help build trustworthy businesses. Wherever you work, I hope you’ll support straight talk, taking responsibility, and engaging and empathizing.