The days of corporates steering clear of any kind of political discourse and focusing only on delivering for shareholders are over, according to key business figures.

The New York Times interviewed a number of chief executives from major US businesses at its conference, DealBook: Playing for the Long Term. And the refrain was consistent – business leaders need to begin thinking more about the effect their decisions have on wider society.

As society appears to be more divided than ever, business executives find themselves in the position of trying to be unifiers, or, in some cases, needing to pick political sides, the Times reports.

Much of societal division, though, is caused simply by the standard of political conversation.

“We’re not here to take political stands,” Kenneth C. Frazier, chief executive of Merck & Co. told the Post.

“My employees don’t need to know what I believe about politics. But I do think, frankly, if you look around at what’s happening in our society, there’s more division than I think I can ever remember.

“Political discourse is such that we think that people who disagree with us are our enemies now,” Mr Frazier said.

“And if you look at our society, our public schools are more segregated than they have been in generations; we live in communities that are essentially enclaves of people that are like us.

“The media we consume now because of cable and social media — you can choose to go and just talk to people who agree with you. I actually think the workplace is the last place in our society where people can’t choose necessarily who they work with.”

Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google, said he increasingly devotes much of his time to thinking about how “technology impacts society at scale.” And part of his job description had turned into “technologist-policy-maker-diplomat.”

The Times reports that a common refrain was heard among senior business figures, echoing the sentiments of Larry Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, the largest investor in the world.

Fink urged other chief executives in a letter earlier this year to be more thoughtful about their roles in society.

“What’s driving a lot of the change now is millennials,” Mr Fink told the Times. “They are asking more of their companies.

“I do believe that the demand for ESG is going to transform all investing,” Mr Fink said, referring to how investors are starting to assess companies based, at least partly, on environmental, social and governance factors.

Sourced from The New York Times; additional content by WARC staff