What does the Trump Administration's “Columbus Day” Proclamation Mean for your Business?
Updated: Apr 15
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The Quick Version
President Trump and his administration have once again weighed in on the topic of cultural change in the United States. While this is unlikely to affect your work officially (outside of Federal training around diversity, equity, and inclusion), it can lead to an increase in divisiveness and stress in the workplace if people are emboldened to argue against cultural changes they are witnessing inside the job and out. Rather than work harder to silence any discussion, we think you can take this opportunity to connect your employees through courageous dialogue so everyone can learn and better understand one another, whatever changes come ahead. Some ways to do that are by establishing psychological safety, anonymous feedback, designated discussion spaces, sharing education, and hiring a specialist if needed.
Read on for the full article!
On October 9, 2020, the White House released a proclamation for Columbus Day pushing back against the movement to rename the holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day and to revisit the historical injustices perpetrated by Columbus and other European settlers. With the administration once again stepping in and weighing on discussions about changing cultural climates, you may wonder where that leaves your business. What if some people want to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day at the office? What if some want to celebrate Columbus Day? We try to answer those questions here.
What is in the Proclamation?
You can read the Proclamation here. In it, the administration celebrates Columbus, the contributions of Italian immigrants to the United States, and chastises the movements to discuss the genocide and harm that came from Columbus and other European exploration and settlement to North America. It reiterates the executive orders President Trump has created to severely punish the vandalizing and destruction of federal monuments, to build and rebuild monuments of “iconic American figures in a National Guardian of American Heroes”, and to root out the teaching of racially divisive concepts from the federal workplace. It also discusses the 1776 Commission to teach about the Miracle of American history and honor the countries founding. Finally, President Trump proclaimed October 12, 2020, as Columbus Day and for it to be observed with appropriate ceremonies and activities.
What can this mean for your business?
Officially, not very much. The memorandum relating to anti-discrimination trainings is something that can affect you if you provide federal funding or are a federal agency yourself, and you can find more about it here. Unofficially, what you should be aware of going forward is the possible emboldening of some employees to speak out against Indigenous People’s Day and anything else they may view as a revision of the history they have come to know.
The main problem we have identified is that right now the United States is in a very politicized and divided space, especially where culture is concerned. Your employees are still people who vote and have opinions, and it looks like it is getting harder to keep them from coming into the workplace. Research from the Society for Human Resources Management has found that at least 26% of Americans admit to talking politics in the workplace on a regular basis. This can breed discontent between coworkers on conflicting sides of the political spectrum. So, what do we suggest to do?
Engage in Courageous Dialogue
It’s simply a fact that there is greater divide in the United States than ever before. Whether it is about the Trump Administration, Black Lives Matter, Mask mandates and lockdown, or Columbus and Indigenous People’s Day, people feel strongly and disagree with one another. These are all coming due to a change in culture and an increase in diversity and representation of different perspectives. While it may feel like the right move to tamp down on this change by preventing discussion at all, we feel this is a great opportunity to engage in it. Why? For three reasons:
1) To help those against change try to understand why it matters and why it is happening
2) To help the marginalized feel seen and supported by their place of work
3) To help those in between make sense of it all
If done right, a good system can support all of these employees. What we suggest is to create space for your employees to engage in courageous dialogue. These are discussions that acknowledge tough topics and lean into them, as opposed to avoiding them. Hopefully, when employees feel like they can trust each other to talk and learn from one another, they can view each other as coworkers rather than the enemy. They can then be less stressed about a disagreement in cultural viewpoints, and focus on the work they do together as a team. How can we build up a space to facilitate this discussion? By normalizing it. Here are some mechanisms you can use:
Create Psychologically Safer Spaces: If people feel like they will be “canceled” or punished for saying the wrong thing, they won’t speak up at all, which can result in a building resentment and feeling of suppression. By making a space psychologically safer, you are letting everyone know that the point is to listen and learn from one another, rather than judge and condemn, and that it is ok to be wrong.
Anonymous Feedback: This serves as a precursor to talking about divisive issues earnestly and in the open. This can be a closed box where people leave slips of paper throughout the week to be read by management, or it can be an online form that anonymizes submission. In either case, this allows people worried about speaking up to convey their feelings on what is going on.
Designated Discussion Spaces: Whether it’s a dedicated channel on your Slack or Microsoft Teams workspace, or it’s talks held during team lunch or morning check-ins, talking openly at all makes more talking easier. Ground rules should be created and shared for all to know what is and is not ok to discuss and how to handle any criticisms or differing opinions.
Educate on it: Sometimes, the best thing you can do about a topic is to learn more about it. For Indigenous People’s Day, you can share sources where people can learn more about the campaigns that led to its creation, or about the culture of indigenous people. This could be sharing a book list, the 21-Day Racial Equity Indigenous Challenge, or taking a field trip to a museum like we have in Maine at the Abbe Museum.
Hire a consultant: If you realize there is more tension in your workplace than you can handle alone, perhaps the best answer is to hire a consultant specializing in courageous dialogue and intercultural conflict, or a cultural broker who understands the effects these policies have on communities and people from the affected backgrounds. They can help design even more ways for your employees to be open with each other and handle any differences that might exist. Yes, this is a space we excel in, and we would absolutely love to talk to you about what we can offer, but there are plenty of others out there who also do great work.
It’s very likely that the cultural and political divide and accompanying friction are going to get greater as 2020 concludes. But by acknowledging these differences as a team, you can be better prepared to bridge the divides that come up.
How can we help?
If you are looking for a consultant who can assist your team to engage in creating courageous dialogue, we can help! In addition to that, we are veteran curriculum creators who can review any curriculum you are creating to instill more diverse, equitable, and inclusive training for your employees. If any of this sounds useful, learn about the services we offer by reading this brochure.
As always, we strive to co-construct ideas and solutions together. While dialogue, alternative perspectives, and questions are encouraged, please note that extreme comments will be deleted as they do not foster collaborative communication. Instead, I would encourage you to message me directly through our website -- I am more than happy to continue conversations in person or over a phone call.