When politics at work is more than office politics
It’s been a big news month, with the indictment of Donald Trump, the expulsion of the Tennessee Three, the ruling on mifepristone, and plenty of other stories.
These huge events are often hard to talk about at work. Not so much in the immediate Boston area—the ultimate liberal bubble—but go a few miles west or south, and people on the other side of the political line are a meaningful minority.
If I want to create an inclusive environment in my organization, does that mean I have to make space for people with different political viewpoints?
I ask this in workshops sometimes. It definitely complicates the picture.
When the group seems to have a liberal consensus, I pose scenarios about conservative colleagues. Picture a cafeteria chat about current events in which the speakers make an assumption that everyone agrees with their take. Would someone who votes Republican feel left out?
During a workshop, I asked a group of leaders whether there were any Trump supporters on staff, and one said “I hope not! Certainly not any of the senior team.” Suppose a junior employee who leans conservative were to overhear that comment. What would they think? Would they feel a sense of belonging in the organization? Could they really bring their full selves to work and expect to advance?
In today’s reality, strong political clashes may just be a normal part of working together. But politics can be a real issue for managers and their direct reports. Imagine a management layer that is mostly Trump supporters. How might that affect the morale, engagement, and even mental health of employees of color or queer employees on that team?
I wrestle with this topic. I don’t believe all viewpoints are equally valid; the rhetoric and policies of Trump and today’s Republican party go beyond political difference. When put into effect, their policies deprive people of rights, dignity, and opportunity. How likely is it that a manager, who shares those belief systems, would spend time mentoring or providing professional development for someone whose identity—gender expression, race, or just voting record—they don’t support?
I don’t think there are any easy answers to this problem. In theory, it is best to leave people’s beliefs alone and focus on aligning the behavior that creates an equitable and inclusive environment. But now that DEI itself has become part of the political platforms, beliefs and behavior aren’t so easy to separate.