Divided America

Divided America. Divided Employees.  

June 20, 2024

The U.S. election, geopolitical issues and ongoing societal issues create increasingly complex challenges and choices for organizations with their employees. On June 20, APCO hosted a salon with 23 businesswomen to discuss how these dynamics are affecting the workplace and what organizations can do about it. Here are some of our key takeaways. 

Be Clear on What You Stand for as an Organization 

  • Determine whether and when you’re an advocacy organization and on what issues and where (internal versus external action). 
  • Ensure you are consistent in your approach, decisions and communications about issues. 
  • Be crystal clear about who you are as an organization and have a North Star—that will serve you best. 
  • Show authenticity for who you are and lean on the facts. 
  • Watch out for the environment driving your decisions versus you driving decisions based on who you are as an organization. 

Anticipate Issues 

  • Develop (or update) a strategic framework for how to respond to political and societal issues. (It can be 10 key questions you ask or more thorough auditing, workshops and framework.)  
  • Establish criteria for when you will speak out publicly or act externally versus when you might reserve comment or action for internal audiences. 
  • Create specific scenario plans around the November election, including the immediate aftermath, policy/regulatory implications of different administrations, etc. 
  • While “ESG” and “DEI” have become politicized, organizations still very much see value in and act on them even if that’s not what they call it. 
  • Ground your positions and action in business reasons. 

Find Ways for Employees to Engage in and Bridge to a Common Purpose 

  • Promote employees getting out to vote to establish that as a shared purpose, regardless of their politics. 
  • Allow for employee resource groups (ERGs) and business resource groups (BRGs) to bring people together to feel heard and engage on tough issues. 
  • Hold (more) team philanthropic and other activities that allow employees of different generations and backgrounds to find their common ground. 

Encourage and Model Courageous Conversations 

  • Foster and train for employees to have tough and productive professional conversations with managers and those they manage. 
  • Find ways for employees to offer more points of view about the organization, how it handles issues and the direction of the organization (e.g., employee surveys). 
  • Allow ERGs and BRGs to feel empowered to raise questions and offer ideas on issues, and then allow for that to be a model for innovation, compromise and having tough conversations. 
  • Equip frontline managers to check in on employees on the holistic dynamics that affect them in the workplace. 

Bring Empathy to the Workforce 

  • Recognize that it’s an emotionally charged world right now for many. 
  • Allow employees to bring their full selves to work such as acknowledging on days that everything is not all right. 
  • When a major societal or geopolitical issue is publicly playing out, consider whether to acknowledge with employees how tough this moment may be for some. 
  • Communicate about mental health and HR resources generally, in key moments and personally for employees in need. 
  • Consider a localized response to a societal or geopolitical issue, as appropriate, while maintaining organizational consistency. 

Adapt to Different Employee Populations 

  • Conduct deep listening to individual internal stakeholders rather than assume you know what they think and feel. 
  • Adapt listening and training to what people need, including early career employees who are statistically more attune to how companies show up on societal and geopolitical issues. 
  • Be clear with earlier career employees about expectations, the significance of the work they’re doing and what it means for them. 
  • Conduct specialized listening and training for middle managers who may feel overwhelmed and caught in the middle. 
  • Establish manager psychological safety where they know what their KPIs are and core values the organization stands by. 

Embrace Our Roles as Leaders, Directors and Advisors Who Can Positively Influence Change 

  • Embrace the chance to moderate impassioned leaders, boards and executive committee members who might not otherwise fully see the risks and opportunities in certain types of action. 
  • Be honest and realistic with ourselves and stakeholders that it’s not business as usual: while guided by principles and planning, we’re all working in shades of gray. 
  • Get comfortable with the uncomfortable as we may not always like every organizational outcome, but we have greater understanding of the why behind it. 
  • Be sure to take care of yourself too as leaders in organizations and give yourself grace as you navigate tough issues. 

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