There’s a Thin Line Between Business and Politics

That line is so thin it’s see through, and all who claim the two must remain separate are being silly, ignorant or both.

Those of you who saw the popular 1996 film “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate” starring Martin Lawrence and Lynn Whitfield will recognize the title reference. It was also a song by The Persuaders.

I’m going to dig into the line between business and politics, but the love and hate bit works too because to feel one or the other requires passion, and good business and good politics are often quite passionate. It makes me shake my head when people argue that a publication like Workforce should refrain from political commentary. Essentially, some readers are saying, stay in your lane; politics has nothing to do with business.

I wholeheartedly disagree.

I’ve used the “stay in your lane” line before when someone uninformed ran off at the mouth publicly about a topic where I felt they lacked key understanding. Not because the ignorant can’t have an opinion, but because I don’t feel the ignorant have the right to attack others’ right to have an opinion, especially when that opinion is defensible and appropriate.

Take my fellow Workforce blogger Jon Hyman, who caught a lot of heat recently when he blogged about that person’s — I’ll remind you that I will not deliberately speak or write his name, but you know him. He lives in former President Obama’s old house — travel ban, a ban which the courts effectively squashed last week.

The comments were hot. Most I ignored, but this one stuck out: “Just for the record, I do not think that an employment law blog is the appropriate place for this type of political rant.”

Again, I disagree.

business and politicsA legal blog devoted to workforce issues is exactly the right place to discuss the leader of the free world issuing a blanket order to prevent “other” people — most of them working people — from entering this country. Hyman chose to take a moral stance, but morality aside — that felt really weird to type — that person’s travel ban affected companies worldwide, as their employees were stalled in airports, unable to do their jobs, many traumatized with worry as they were detained and separated from loved ones.

You cannot separate business and politics, not entirely. Aside from things like immigration laws that impact H-1B visas and the EEOC, which routinely takes businesses to task for discriminatory practices that violate laws or legal precedents, there’s too much influential hand washing and wheeling and backroom dealing that takes place for the two to be mutually exclusive. Things the general public doesn’t always hear about until stocks are falling, buyouts are in the works or mergers are reported.

Then, consider, a company’s public perception, its brand reputation, its ability to recruit the best talent; all of these things can be egregiously impacted by its leader’s politics. Sports apparel company Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank found that out after top spokespeople like ballerina Misty Copeland and basketball player Stephen Curry showed their concern for his public support of the president on CNBC’s Fast Money Halftime Report on Tuesday. Plank “praised Trump as a “pro-business president.”

Plank is at the helm of a successful, globally recognizable “Athleisure” brands out right now, and he sees the connections between business and politics. Remember me talking about passion? In his CNBC comments he used that word too, along with growth and a desire to build things, and let’s not forget the talent, the people. Plank also found out about the other thing that connects business and politics — the eggs the public will throw at a leader’s head, regardless of what side of the fence he rests, if people disagree with him.

I’m no expert on either business or politics. But there is no doubt in my mind that the two are connected. The line separating them is paper thin. I’d even go so far as to say it’s arbitrary.

I was riding in the elevator earlier this week when I learned that Starbucks offered free legal advice to employees affected by the travel ban. I don’t drink coffee that often, but I’m still planning to go to a shop and buy something to show my support for that brand. Then, ride-sharing company Lyft pledged $1 million to the ACLU. However unspoken, are these not political statements made by prominent businesses? These are also some of the same facts that Hyman detailed in his blog.

Trying to disassociate politics from business is like trying to separate people from discussions of diversity and inclusion. You could do it, but how ridiculous would you look in the process?

When a politician takes a stance that others do not agree with, a stance that actively harms either a business or a group of people who could contribute to business in some way, it is our right — even in the media, especially in the media — to speak up, whether your name is Plank or Hyman or whomever. Whether they are in the White House or in a corner office on a high floor, at the end of the day, business and political leaders are accountable to us — consumers and voters. They need to act accordingly.

Kellye Whitney is associate editorial director for Workforce magazine. Comment below or email editor@workforce.com.