Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Election Has Workplace Implications

February 9th, 2008 | Paula Brantner

It’s an election year. If this has escaped your notice, you either 1) don’t live in the United States; or 2) must never watch television, read a newspaper, or use the Internet (and since you’re reading this, the latter is probably not true.) In the primaries, both major parties and many candidates (even though the field has narrowed considerably recently) have bombarded the public with their messages until anyone but the most extreme political junkie is thoroughly sick of it by now (and it’s only February.) So it shouldn’t be a surprise that news articles are already circulating that tie the candidates to specific workplace trends and policies.

Hillary Clinton:
Marcia Heroux Pounds uses Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as a reason to examine the persistence of stereotypes against women leaders. Women who back Sen. Clinton’s candidacy decry what they see as the inherent sexism in which some of the criticisms of her candidacy are rooted. According to Evelyn Murphy, a Clinton backer who is former lieutenant governor in Massachusetts and author of Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men — And What to Do About It:

Biases and stereotypes are there. Here’s a woman who is clearly more experienced, more substantive in policies than her opponents, but is now being abandoned by her previous supporters.

(See Sun-Sentinel article.) Will having Sen. Clinton elected as president change anything? Yes, says Margaret Heffernan, author of How She Does It:

A woman as president would be ’empowering and inspiring, both for women in the corporate world and their daughters. It changes the game in itself. It means there will be future female candidates. Once you’ve seen someone in that position, you can see others.’

(See Sun-Sentinel article.)

Barack Obama:
Career columnist Penelope Trunk explains (sort of, anyway) how Barack Obama’s discussion of generational issues in politics has its corollary in the workplace.

He’s very tactful as he disses the boomers. He makes it clear that he’s a bridge builder, respectful of the fact that everyone has a place in history. And he is, above all, someone with empathy for diverse backgrounds. These are all the same kinds of skills we need in the workplace today.

(See The Hook article.) While the article seems at times a flimsy excuse to either promote Sen. Obama’s candidacy or talk about Trunk’s own life experiences, certainly whoever is elected as president will set a tone for our national discourse that will undoubtedly spill over into other aspects of life, including the workplace. Whether the generational implications will be as strong as Trunk describes them, either now or if Sen. Obama is elected, is another matter.

John McCain:

While there haven’t been too many articles yet linking John McCain to the workplace, there have started to crop up articles questioning Sen. McCain’s expertise on economic issues. While the economy seems primed to be a major issue in this election, Sen. McCain said this while campaigning in New Hampshire: “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should. I’ve got Greenspan’s book.” (See CBS News article.) Although McCain has now tried to distance himself from that comment, it’s not the first time the issue has come up.

In a 2005 Wall Street Journal interview, McCain said, “I’m going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated.” (See Wall Street Journal article.)

If McCain is elected President, I think that education could happen quite quickly, but some might expect more in advance of his election than reading a Greenspan book or two.

Contrast Between the Parties:

The deceptively-named Center for Equal Opportunity already has its president and general counsel, Roger Clegg, issuing doomsday predictions about what’s at stake if a Democratic nominee is elected:

Now that the excitement of Super Tuesday has passed, we should remember the kinds of policies and principles at stake. Exhibit A: three pieces of legislation pending in Congress that would dramatically increase the liability of private companies for alleged acts of employment discrimination. The first would resurrect the discredited idea of “comparable worth.” The second would add various sexual orientations to the classifications protected from employment discrimination. The third is a plaintiffs’ bar wish list, aimed mostly at overturning cases it lost in the Supreme Court.

(See Wall Street Journal article.) While these three measures can be considered priorities for Democratic members of Congress, and almost certainly will get more significant consideration from a Democratic president than a Republican one, their passage is by no means certain, even with a Democratic president and a Democratic majority in Congress. There is certainly a contrast between the parties, and while both sides hope their favorite measures will receive due consideration if their candidates are elected, it would be surprising if employment issues are at the top of anyone’s list, except perhaps for the Supreme Court, which does seem to be accepting an increased number of employment-related cases these days. (See HR Executive Magazine article.)

Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart?

No, Wal-Mart isn’t running for president. But you wouldn’t know it from this article in the New York Times: Wal-Mart: The New Washington.

The nation’s largest private employer sure sounds like it’s running for president these days.

It’s making sweeping commitments to reduce America’s energy use and improve its health care system. It’s obsessively polling voters, boasting of a higher favorability rating than Congress. It’s even touting an “economic stimulus plan for American shoppers” in the form of steep price cuts made last week. (Four 12-packs of Pepsi? $10.)

That last one may be slightly tongue in cheek — even discount retailers have a sense of humor — but the bigger message is not: after years of running afoul of the United States government on labor and environmental issues, Wal-Mart now aspires to be like the government, bursting through political logjams and offering big-picture solutions to intractable problems.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather vote for any of the candidates than to leave it to Wal-Mart to solve our societal problems — given how many problems they’ve caused in the first place. So even though you’d probably prefer to tune out at this point — keep paying attention to what the candidates are saying, and listen for how they plan to solve workplace issues. Because chances are, you’ll be working for the next four years, and the president’s views will matter.

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