Should you talk about your political beliefs in the workplace?

Much like sex and religion, politics is supposed to be a no-go zone for workplace conversation. By and large, it’s a restrained custom that tends to be observed in Australia, which is why it’s often quite difficult to figure out our colleagues’ political inclinations, and probably rightly so. But what if you worked with someone who was just too ostentatious about their political beliefs? Could you work, for example, with a diehard Trump supporter? Or an avowed Marxist?

I once worked with a lovely woman who had a Joe Hockey calendar on her desk. It never really bothered me but it was certainly the talk of the office, not so much because she voted for the Liberals but because she was happy staring at her local member’s face all day. That wasn’t as confronting as the guy who wore a “Make America Great Again” cap to work. He wasn’t even American.

More recently, I was browsing a list of CVs when I came across one that struck me as curious. The candidate made no attempt to hide his political affiliations. Under a section titled Memberships, he included a couple of industry associations but then also made sure to mention his favoured political party – the Greens. In the section titled Hobbies and Interests, he included meaningless nonsense like reading and sports but also his time as a green-clad volunteer at polling booths. In the Internships section, of course he also added a stint at a senator’s office.

The bloke wasn’t suitable for the job anyway, but what if he had actually met all the criteria? And what would have happened if I had a strong bias against left-leaning applicants? Well, he’d have no chance. And I would like have missed out on a potentially talented employee, and definitely a passionate one.

That second question is probably the most pertinent. It’s one thing to think badly of someone based on who they vote for; it’s another to be unduly influenced by our own political beliefs – especially when we have no idea we’re being influenced by them.

This effect has been demonstrated in an intriguing study that has just been published by the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota. The outcome the researchers focused on was gender inequality. They analysed hundreds of law firms and thousands of lawyers in a bid to discover if being of the left or the right has an impact on whether women are given fair opportunities in the workplace.

The findings are numerous. The most noteworthy include:

  • Left-leaning law firms hire 19 per cent more female graduates than conservative law firms.
  • Overall, conservative firms have 9 per cent fewer females working there.
  • In terms of promotions, there’s more than 70 per cent greater gender inequality in areas of law predominated by conservative partners.

So why is that? The researchers suspect it’s because left-leaning managers “are more likely to hold nontraditional beliefs about gender roles and gender stereotypes, making them less likely to believe that women lack the temperament needed to succeed in leadership roles”. They’re also more likely to believe that organisations have a responsibility to right the wrongs of gender inequality. As a result, they view female candidates more generously.

In contrast, conservative managers are more inclined to view leadership as being about decisiveness and assertiveness rather than friendliness and cooperation. They therefore tend to associate men with the former and women with the latter, a position reinforced by their belief in a “division of household labor in which men work outside the home and women work inside the home”. This then leads to gender-related favouritism since they’re of the opinion that “family responsibilities will prevent female subordinates from fulfilling the higher level of commitment required of managers”.

I write this as someone who has traditionally been a conservative voter, so clearly there are exceptions, and much food for thought.

What are your experiences?

I once worked with a lovely woman who had a Joe Hockey calendar on her desk.

James Adonis is the author of How To Be Great. Follow MySmallBusiness on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn