© Tobias Tanzyna / Leadership Forum 2022



Prof. Dr. Sabine Einwiller

Professor Sabine Einwiller

About the research project

Title: CEOs in the midst of activism: Exploring stakeholder reactions to different issue types

Team: Prof. Sabine Einwiller, Vanja Bojanic (University of Vienna)

Project period: December 2023 – June 2024

Today’s chief executive officers (CEOs) are increasingly expected and willing to take a public stance on contentious social issues such as racial justice, diversity, or environmental protection. Whether CEO activism is effective or not often depends on the choice of issue.

This research project by the University of Vienna will examine how reactions to CEO activism vary depending on the type of issue. Understanding this will provide companies with insights into how far activist CEOs inspire constructive discussions or whether they exacerbate disputes in times of continued polarized politics and society.


Study objective: The research project explores how reactions to activist stances vary depending on the issue.

Research question: How do varying issues affect stakeholder reactions to CEO activism?

Methodology: An experimental design will be applied to gather data on how the issue type affects an individual’s views on CEO activism. Following insights from the latest versions of the Edelman trust barometer and similar indicative surveys, issues will be distinguished by whether they are social (discrimination), political (nursing crisis), environmental (climate change), and event-triggered (a CEO’s statement to a public protest).

The research will be set up as an online experiment with fictive stimuli. Ideally, the experiment will consist of a sample of the general German population (approx. 600 participants). In sum, four experimental groups will be distinguished. To avoid cross-contamination, participants will answer questions about a single social, political, environmental, or event-triggered issue.

Research results are expected for mid 2024.