Banning political debate from the workplace is wrong
Should we have political debate at work? I say: Yes.
With an important addition: Yes, and we need to make sure that they are rooted in mutual respect, and help them being productive.
Discussing political and societal issues in the workplace is an absolute necessity for a well-working organisation.
We experience fundamental shifts in our societies, the way they work, the values they want to uphold, and the values they no longer condone. As human beings, we respond to those changes not only on a rational level, but also with emotions. And most of those discussions we have with our friends, families and in our communities are arguably driven more by emotions than our rational mind. They are a sort of collective sense-making on an emotional level.
Banning political debate from the workplace means forcing us check in our emotions at 9 in the morning. We cannot leave our concerns and anxieties at the door, like a coat. Forcing us to do so is nothing less than forcing us to deny our human nature. It is dehumanising.
If political and societal issues are bothering people, making them nervous or anxious, there should be a place at work where we can address and discuss these issues in a healthy way.
Secondly, as I said on Twitter, negating the necessity of political reflection at work says that either you don’t think your products have an impact on society, or that you don’t care about it. Both is short-sighted, and if you’re working in Tech, also probably wrong.
Who is positively impacted by our work? Who negatively? Which persons can we not reach and why is that so? Who are we making money for? How are our products used, by whom? Where are our biases? This question is especially relevant if you’re doing anything with Machine Learning.
Companies need to acknowledge that they have an impact on society (otherwise they wouldn’t exist), and we need to address that impact.
If anything, we need more political debate at work, not less!