Online discussion forums (fora?) are a funny thing. While we generally have our daily conversations inside our bubbles, where opinions rarely surprise us and everybody knows your name, forums allow us to hold conversations with people from outside (often far outside) our little bubbles. I live in Portland, Oregon, which is the epitome of the Liberal Bubble (TM), where I can generally expect that 99% of the people on the streetcar live on the same side of the political spectrum—if not quite as far to one end—as I do. Because of this geography, I jump at opportunities to examine life and opinions outside Portland.
One such opportunity comes in the form of the community forum of the largest association of human resources professionals in the country. HR professionals from both coasts, the midwest, cities, suburbs, and rural areas all come together to ask each other questions that come up in their work as HR practitioners—and wow, can the content be BORING. Sometimes, though, it gives me a glimpse into how people outside my bubble grapple with things that seem obvious to people in one bubble and totally murky to others. The forum content is behind a membership paywall, so I won’t directly quote from it, but here’s the gist of my latest interaction:
Original Poster: We offer our employees free catered food every Friday. It’s Pride month, and one of our gay employees asked their manager not to order the food from Chick-Fil-A because he says they’re anti-gay. (Note from Caitlin: they definitely are.) What should we do? Our employees love their chicken.
Reply #1: I just don’t think politics belongs in the workplace. You shouldn’t change what you’re doing just because of politics.
Reply #2: Um, it’s free food? Tell them they don’t have to eat it if they don’t like it?
Reply #3: Just to play the other side, if you stop ordering Chick-Fil-A because of their religious beliefs, couldn’t your Christian employees claim discrimination?
Me, hair on fire: I’m so glad you asked this question. First, if you decide that your company should not order from Chick-Fil-A, it’s not because you’re “bringing politics into the workplace.” It’s because your LGBTQ+ employees are being harmed by your actions, so you’re choosing to stop. Second, it’s not religious discrimination against Christian employees to choose not to order certain food because that chain’s lobbying and donations are actively and currently harming some of your employees. You’re not stopping your order because of the Chick-Fil-A owner’s religious beliefs, you’re stopping it because the company’s actions are hurting your people. Find another chicken chain. You’re not choosing between harming some employees or harming others. You’re choosing between NOT harming someone and ACTIVELY harming someone. It costs you literally nothing to do the right thing for some of your most vulnerable employees.
Manager friends: our #1 job is to create an inclusive and equitable workplace where people can be their happiest and most productive selves. Please don’t shy away from hard (or easy) decisions because they seem like they might be controversial or “political.” Chances are, they only seem that way because someone told you at some point that a person’s basic right to feel welcome and safe is somehow political. LGBTQ+ people* have been waging this war for a while—the idea that their very existence and safety is a threat to the rights of religious people who question their very humanity.
These questions are not hard to figure out. The difficulty lies in being brave enough to stand up for the right answer. You can do it!
*We’ve talked a lot about racial equity in the workplace and how managers need to do the work to dismantle institutional racism; we’re going to be talking more about how workplace decisions like these impact the ability of POC to feel welcome at work. Hint: it all starts with well trained managers!