Business leaders must step up and address inequality or they jeopardize putting capitalism in crisis, according to Harvard economist Rebecca Henderson.
Henderson told Business Insider that the coronavirus pandemic has put more pressure on business leaders to deal with inequality throughout the country.
"If we don't grab this opportunity, we risk getting stuck back in our old patterns of behavior," she said. "And that I'm afraid will take us to a radically destabilized society."
She said the virus has exposed the downfalls of free market capitalism, especially when it comes to income inequity.
Over the past few years, she said there has been an increase of business leaders talking about inequality, climate change and politics, but not at the rate the coronavirus has made it a topic of conversation.
"Business leaders can see inequality in a way they couldn't see before. You know, many of the leaders of large corporations, they work unbelievably hard, but they live in bubbles. And I think that the pandemic shattered that bubble," Henderson told Business Insider.
She said the topic of inequality has been buzzing in the background, but coronavirus made it louder.
Billionaires like investor Ray Dalio, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, and NBA Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban have all publicly spoken out about income inequality amid the pandemic. They called on business leaders to help bring in change.
"The possible silver lining of this pandemic is that it's an opportunity to change. Everything's on the table. People can see the need for change. We really need to grab this," she said.
She said now is the time for business leaders to reimagine what the role of business should look like. One ideas she proposed businesses could consider implementing would be increasing the number of paid sick leave days for employees.
"Leaders are seeing the huge number of essential workers who didn't have healthcare, who didn't have paid sick leave, who didn't have enough savings to allow them to stay home if they were feeling sick or felt their workplace was unsafe," she said.
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