Does a Polarized World Create a Polarized Workplace?

From guns to wedding cakes to Brexit, the emotional debates that polarize the world can also polarize a workplace. The outdated notion of checking your politics at the door has been replaced with active, authorized discussions of formerly taboo topics. There’s now no escaping workplace conversations that are reflections of public debates. This panel delved into how companies are successfully riding the waves of political rhetoric, resulting in a competitive advantage for their companies.

  • Una Pulizzi, Manager, Global Public Affairs, General Electric
  • Tony Cervone, SVP, Global Communications, General Motors
  • Joanne Bischmann, VP, Communications, Harley Davidson
  • Elise Eberwein, EVP, People, Communications, & Public Affairs, American Airlines
  • Rebecca Lowell Edwards, Director, Strategic Communications & Public Affairs, International Olympic Committee

Session Photos


This panel observed Chatham House Rules, which state that participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker, nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. The following summary complies with the rules.


“We are in a polarized time and we are more than ever responsible for having conversations that might be difficult so we can create bonds of understanding and mutual respect.” – Lowell Edwards

Polarization triggers:
  • Politics
    • National
    • Local
    • Global
  • Gender representation in the workplace
  • Economics and global trade impacting business decisions
  • The decline of open discussion, exacerbated by social media divides


The panel shared strategies for mitigating or managing workplace polarization:
  • Providing employees with real-language talking points for answering questions about the company’s values or positions coming from neighbors, relatives, and friends.
  • Training to identify and mitigate implicit bias.
  • Fostering a focus on learning and finding solutions together, collaboratively, rather than a top-down autocratic approach.
  • Rapid response to issues in real time and using real language, using tools like Yammer.
  • Encouraging executives to be less scripted and more engaging.



In their own words:

“We used to say, ‘That sounds like a personal problem, take it home.’ That’s not the reality today.”

“To really affect change, we have to create a safe environment … to have a leader that is willing to share their own vulnerabilities helps create a safe environment to share your own.”

“In that day, when the world was coming at me … the one thing that gave me so much support was how many Page members reached out to me. All those other groups I belonged to, no one ever sent me an email in a crisis.”

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