Business and Politics: An Inseparable Marriage

In 2021, the intersection of business, politics, and ethics seems almost inseparable. As GaryVee called it out here back in January 2020, LinkedIn is becoming the new Facebook in producing content where ‘the organic reach and consumption is remarkably high.’

Broadly speaking, there is an increase of posts and discussion topics on most social media platforms, including, but not limited to, racial justice, economic disparity, xenophobia, mental health, and leadership styles.

These trending topics are a testament to the cultural change and paradigm shift we see in the business and political arena: They are no longer mutually exclusive. What’s important to understand from this article is as follows:

In the era of COVID-19, stay-at-home orders, working from home, and our desire to stay connected, businesses’ values and political agendas are being exposed through technology social media platforms at unprecedented rates.

Corporations that once ‘unofficially’ expected employees to keep religion and politics ‘out of the workplace’ are now allocating resources and hiring outside talent to stand-up programs that address the very same issues that were once considered inappropriate in a standard working environment. On the surface, this sounds and looks great! To know that we can show up to work as our true authentic selves and NOT be penalized for it, but instead, encouraged to facilitate these discussions with the blessings of executive leadership may seem liberating and even a step in the right direction. But there is a very dark side to this that I don’t think any of us are talking about.

When the phrase “systemic racism” is brought up, one of two things usually occur: One, people reading this are either triggered or can relate to this directly. Two, people reading this express indifference, confusion, and skepticism (usually by either remaining silent or ‘playing devil’s advocate’). While this disparity is only natural due to our unique set of experiences, it reflects an even more significant ‘systemic’ issue:

Most people haven’t learned how to have a common dialogue about politics, business, and racism in the same setting.

Try remembering a class where you were encouraged to pick a politically or racially charged topic (e.g., systemic racism, xenophobia, etc.) and openly discuss/debate this topic with other students in the classroom…..I’ll wait. If you can’t think of a time where this was allowed, let alone encouraged or facilitated by teachers, you’re not alone. Typically, these topics in school were considered ‘too political’ or ‘unaligned’ to the standardized school curriculum. Personally, I attended a highly ranked, well-funded public school where the default strategy was to have the conversation in private, bring in a guest speaker, or refer to the author of our textbooks.

Fast forward to where you are now in your career — did you ever acquire the tools to talk about these issues? Did you ever learn the fundamentals of conflict management or conflict resolution? Did a teacher, manager, executive, or business partner ever encourage you to walk right into the lion’s den and address that ethical, racial, or political issue you’ve been observing and thinking about?

By now, most of you probably know the answer. No. It’s unprofessional, unorthodox, and uncalled for — it always was. But now, it’s the talk of the town. The commercials, marketing strategies, D&I initiatives, and ‘conscience capitalism’ campaigns are in full throttle! BUT none of us genuinely know how to take the next step! ‘Why?’ you might ask.

Venn-Diagram displaying the intersection of business, politics, and ethics.

Up until now, companies were primarily evaluated by their quarterly earnings, top-line performance, and confidence from stakeholders/shareholders. But what most of us never saw coming was the unexpected and inseparable marriage of these two schools of thought. Calling politics and ethics out as a ‘nice to have’ and business and research as a ‘must’ has led us to where we are now.

Separating these highly interconnected and interdependent fields/topics was, in hindsight, the most lethal driver for most of the social unrest and economic disparity we will continue to see at a global level.

When you shop online, you probably think twice about the reputation of the company you’re purchasing a product or service from. When you consider your positions on specific propositions on the ballot for your district before voting, you probably follow specific candidates on Instagram, read their Tweets, or search for an informative video on YouTube. When a racist, sexist, or xenophobic remark is caught on or off the record from an executive of a company whose product or service you use, you probably talk to your friends and family about alternative options.

Congratulations, we’re finally beginning the journey of stakeholder capitalism and voting with our ‘pocketbooks.’

But what does this mean for the future?

My prediction is simple: Over the next 20 years, businesses (small, medium, and large) will not solely be evaluated and assessed on their financial health but their social equity. Employees searching for their next job will not just take salaries, benefits, and work-life balance into consideration but will review the values of the companies they consider applying for beforehand. Lastly, new social impact metrics will be paired with financial metrics when examining a company’s impact on the world. Do these businesses indirectly or directly enable distinct political agendas to thrive or fail? What are the downstream implications of these policies on our day-to-day life? Does this positively or negatively impact any of my family members? Are any of my closest friends and colleagues marginalized due to these firms’ economic successes that play a direct role in certain public policies?

Suppose we can become more comfortable asking ourselves the questions above. In that case, we will bridge the gap between these highly interdependent schools of thought and have better alignment between where we ‘vote’ with our pocketbooks, where we seek employment, and who we decide to elect in our local districts. In turn, we will be a much more informed and conscious society.

Written by Arjun Madra