This week the Goodyear Tire Company had a bad day. An employee at its Topeka factory leaked a photo of a diversity and inclusion slide which listed both acceptable clothing expressions — “Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride (LGBT)” — and unacceptable clothing expressions—”Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, MAGA, Politically Affiliated Slogans or Materials”.
The reaction was swift and went viral. Goodyear’s stock dropped five percent as President Trump called for a boycott of the company’s tires.
For employees working in big corporate cultures, the Goodyear situation is nothing new. It simply reflects the political correctness cancer that has metastasized into our modern culture.
Polls show that “just 26% of adults believe Americans have true freedom of speech. Sixty-five percent (65%) say instead that Americans have to be careful not to say something politically incorrect to avoid getting in trouble.”
Groupthink has infected business leaders who may privately disagree with their company’s PC positions, yet force them on employees and customers.
But resistance to PC is not just limited to the right side of the political spectrum. Consider what these well-known progressives have said about PC culture in just the last year:
Bill Maher, a witty vulgar observer of politics and a caustic critic of President Trump, explained PC’s impact on modern culture in June 2019: “When you talk to Trump supporters, they’re not blind to his myriad flaws. But one thing they always say is he’s not politically correct. I don’t think you can overestimate how much people have been choking on political correctness and hate it.”
On their November 2019 show, The View, fellow comedians Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg complained how “the PC culture out there makes it really hard to do comedy.” Their guest that day, Tim Allen, commiserated with them that PC forces people to communicate secretly in whispers, “looking around in their own room” so as not to be heard by the prevailing authorities, i.e., “the thought police.”
American film director, producer, and writer, Oliver Stone, in a recent New York Times interview complained: “The problem is in Hollywood. Everything has become too fragile, too sensitive. You can’t make a film without a Covid adviser. You can’t make a film without a sensitivity counselor. It’s ridiculous. The Academy changes its mind every five, ten, two months about what it’s trying to keep up with. It’s politically correct [expletive], and it’s not a world I’m anxious to run out into. I’ve never seen it quite mad like this. It’s like an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ tea party.”
While universal distaste for political correctness exists, it persists. Think about it. Ninety-six percent of Americans were outraged by the police killing of George Floyd. Yet the Black Lives Matter movement seized on this police homicide and demanded that people kneel and apologize for their “white privilege”.
Determined to avoid BLM’s wrath, large companies like Pepsi, Amazon, Bank of America, and others dutifully complied — even though 60 percent of people apparently prefer the phrase, All Lives Matter.
What can leaders do to address political correctness in their organizations?
First, define the problem. Leaders must acknowledge publicly what political correctness is doing privately to the souls of people: assaulting their freedom and dignity.
Second, engage and communicate! No organization can survive when communication ceases to pursue a shared understanding of reality. After all, a lie is committed with words that mean the same thing to everybody. Political correctness attacks the very nature of communication by corrupting language itself.
Third, promote authentic diversity and inclusion which begins with tolerating others who are different not just in skin colour or sexual orientation but in political and religious beliefs. The old admonition, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” is critical to rebuilding respect among people.
Fourth, return to the basics of what unifies any organization: friendship and fairness. Leaders who fail to foster these fundamental qualities among employees risk fracturing their group.
Finally, leaders must show the courage to stop letting PC ideology sabotage their organization’s success.
After all, do you know how many police departments buy Goodyear tires for their vehicles… yep, a lot! Sensing danger to future company sales, Rich Kramer, Chairman, CEO & President of Goodyear, quickly issued a letter of regret to clarify Goodyear’s position toward law enforcement.
But he failed to apologise to factory employees in Topeka for what he described as content “not approved or distributed by Goodyear Corporate or anyone outside of that facility.” During my career I ran three large production factories. Competent plant managers who understand the people they work with never let employees see policy slides which have not been thoroughly reviewed and approved.
You may think that I am being naive. Perhaps you believe that it is just too perilous to challenge the politically correct forces in your company.
That may be true. Then again, you can probably bet that because of what happened at Goodyear’s Topeka factory, the purveyors of political correctness had a bad day, and that’s a good thing!