When Politics Enters the Workplace: The Dilemma of Taking a Stand

4 min read

My 11-year-old son asked me why my job has never participated in politics- we hardly declare our stance on political matters in the nation. I have to admit that I felt cornered for a minute but finally found my tongue.

I had to applaud his keenness though- churches and other religious institutions are more often than not ready with a directive to give, but seldom will you see this freedom in the corporate world- ours is different.

Perhaps this short history from Nike will bring into perspective what I am passing across in a better way.

In 2018, Nike launched an advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, a former NFL player known for kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality.

The campaign sparked a polarized reaction. Some customers boycotted Nike products and burned their Nike gear in protest, while others supported the campaign, leading to a surge in online sales and a rise in stock prices. Overall, Nike’s bold stand appealed to its core demographic and strengthened its brand identity.

Here’s another one.

In 2022, Disney faced pressure to oppose Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which restricts discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Initially, Disney remained neutral, but after significant internal and external pressure, CEO Bob Chapek publicly opposed the bill.

Repercussions: Disney’s stance led to a backlash from Florida’s government, including the dissolution of the special tax district that allowed Disney to self-govern its theme park area. This resulted in financial and operational challenges for Disney. Simultaneously, the company faced criticism from employees and the public for its initial neutrality, highlighting the difficulties companies face when navigating politically charged issues.

So right there is the age-long dilemma we find ourselves in in such circumstances.  Do we remain neutral, or do we make our stance known- and challenge the status quo?

Let’s bring this closer home.

Kenya has been experiencing significant political turmoil, with large-scale protests against government actions perceived as corrupt and unjust. These protests have disrupted businesses, impacted daily life, and highlighted deep-seated issues of governance and accountability. Now, companies that publicly support the protests and criticize government actions could align themselves with the public sentiment, potentially boosting their reputation among consumers who are frustrated with the status quo. However, this stance could provoke severe backlash from the government, leading to regulatory challenges, targeted harassment, or even boycotts by government-affiliated entities.

Again, in a climate where citizens are demanding transparency and justice, companies are under pressure to demonstrate their commitment to ethical practices and social responsibility. Taking a stand on political issues can be seen as an extension of CSR, reflecting a company’s values and principles. By supporting the calls for justice and anti-corruption measures, companies can position themselves as leaders in ethical business practices. This could attract a loyal customer base that values integrity. However, such a position could alienate some customers and business partners who prefer to avoid political entanglements, and it might expose the company to retaliatory actions from powerful political figures involved in the controversies. Just think of that for a minute.

Lastly, demonstrations and political unrest also affect employees and stakeholders, who may have strong opinions about the issues at hand. Companies need to consider the impact of their stance on internal morale and external perceptions

Taking a stand in favor of the demonstrators could boost employee morale, especially if the workforce shares similar sentiments. It could also attract talent who value social activism. However, this could also lead to division within the company if employees and stakeholders have differing political views. Balancing these internal dynamics while maintaining a coherent public stance could be highly challenging.

In this challenging environment, businesses must navigate between ethical responsibility and practical survival. Their choices resonate far beyond their offices, shaping their lasting impact. Should they boldly uphold integrity, risking stability for the greater good? Or should they prioritize caution, securing their future through silence? What path do you, my dear reader,  think businesses should choose in such critical moments?

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