HR in the age of Trump
‘Trumpism’ has implications for Canadian organizations
Jan 24, 2017
By Brian Kreissl
This isn’t a partisan political post. While there are numerous valid criticisms one could make of Donald Trump and his words, actions and policies as a politician, businessman and leader, many people even in his own party didn’t support him.
On the other hand, those who voted for Trump did so for many different reasons, and not all of them are racist, sexist, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who didn’t graduate high school trying to drag the country back to the 1950s. Writing off people who voted for Trump as “deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton did, would be a mistake.
Many people were fed up with “Washington elites” and decided to try electing an outsider to shake things up. Others were worried about the economy and the disappearance of well-paid manufacturing jobs. While I don’t see Trump as being the champion of the working class that he makes himself out to be, I can understand at least some of the sentiment.
I also understand that we live in Canada, and because of that some might wonder why I am even commenting on a political phenomenon in another country. Still others might wonder what this has to do with HR given that Trump is a political leader and this blog is about human resources management.
There is no question that social, political and economic forces shape people and societies and ultimately organizations. Employers aren’t isolated from the political environment, and the words and actions of politicians can and do impact how people behave in organizations. The political, legal and regulatory environment impacts business and vice versa.
I see the rise of Trump as being part of a bigger populist movement that is anti-globalist and anti-elite. I wouldn’t be the first person to recognize the similarities between the election of Rob Ford as mayor in Toronto, last year’s Brexit vote that saw the United Kingdom decide narrowly to withdraw from the European Union and the election of Trump in the United States.
We are fooling ourselves if we think political movements south of the border don’t impact Canada or that Canadians don’t follow, comment on or have opinions about politics and current events in the United States. Many Canadians smugly point to the election of Trump and claim it could never happen here, but are we really that certain?
Diversity and inclusion
There is no question that racists and the so-called “alt-right” have been empowered by the election of Trump. While I reiterate that not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, many of his comments were racist, misogynist and xenophobic. He even mocked one journalist’s disability.
If someone as powerful as the president of the United States can behave in such a manner and get away with it, other people may feel empowered by Trump and believe that expressing such feelings is the “new normal.” Because of the backlash against what is seen as excessive “political correctness,” employers should be ever more vigilant in safeguarding human rights within organizations and promoting diversity and inclusion.
At the same time, we need to understand why some people may see these types of programs as being politically correct claptrap and be willing to help educate them on the importance of diversity. Because political correctness seems to be a pendulum — one that recently swung quite far to the left (witness the furor over “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” in academia) — we are again seeing a backlash against it.
As long as the tone is respectful and no one advocates hatred against anyone, it may be necessary to tolerate and engage in meaningful debate among co-workers about issues relating to diversity. To do otherwise could invite allegations of organizations stifling free speech — an allegation often levelled at universities these days.
While Trump so far has focused his attention on Mexico, he has indicated that he wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States’ trading partners — including Canada. As a result, some Canadian companies may need to rethink their business models.
While the United States will likely always be our largest trading partner, we may need to start trading more with other countries. To do so might require new knowledge and skills, particularly in the area of language and cultural awareness and a better understanding of the legal and regulatory regimes and business environments elsewhere.
© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.
Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.