Tracy Cote: Discussing Politics in the Workplace

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The events of the past year have led to dialogue in the workplace that isn’t necessarily about business. Tracy Cote says there’s a right way to navigate these new waters.

Let’s face it: the days of pretending like our differences don’t exist are over.

And yet, there continues to be a lot of hand wringing amongst business leaders and HR professionals, as they wonder whether they should allow sensitive or political topics to be discussed in the workplace.

Of course, avoiding tough conversations — whether you’re at work, or at Sunday dinner with the extended family —is a lot easier, especially if you all have differing views. And that has been the approach most businesses have taken – being noncommittal feels safe and easy.

But more and more, people want to know what their organization stands for.

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If you value diversity, that also includes embracing diversity of thought. As an HR professional, I always recommend that my leadership team puts their perspective out there, while at the same time, modeling acceptance for differing points of view. As leaders, it’s important to be transparent about what you stand for — and to accept that not everyone shares your point of view.

For example, at my current company, we believe that #BLM was not a political issue, it is a human rights issue. To further that perspective, we embraced Juneteenth, bringing in a variety of black speakers to share their experiences, and we open up the floor to anyone who wants to participate, in an effort to educate and raise awareness.

But we don’t insist that every single employee join in these conversations. Because I know that some people don’t want to, or aren’t ready to.

Of course, we need to navigate these waters carefully, but openly. I for one am never afraid to “go there." I know that I may stumble from time to time. So I make it a point to listen to my team, as they help guide me with their feedback. Once you open the door, however, it can’t be closed. This means supporting, as opposed to editing, a wide variety of conversations.

My goal is to work with leaders to create a safe space for the team, as we raise awareness, foster connection, and encourage mutual understanding. Acknowledging the very major and real historical, sociopolitical issues of our time is the right thing to do, and it also drives engagement and deeper relationships. In this moment, it’s simply too critical to ignore.

With a Perspective, I’m Tracy Cote.

Tracy Coté works for a San Francisco-based HR software provider, delivering people operations solutions to small companies.