To be or not to be

By Albert Swantner, CTO of Mobile Tech RX and co-chair of Culturati Summit 2021

I, like many of you, was disgusted at what happened at the Capitol this past week. There is no excuse for what happened and everyone involved should be arrested and tried for the crimes that they committed. The blowback was fierce among some Republicans, Democrats, and business leaders. Tim Cook from Apple issued a very strong statement condemning the violence. Jack Dorsey canceled Donald Trump’s Twitter account, Mark Zuckerburg blocked Donald Trump from Facebook and Instagram. Apple and Google removed the app Parler from the app store because of the incitement of violence.

As I listen to all this, I remember one phrase that Eugene Sepulveda always says to me — “The workplace is one of the last places that Democrats and Republicans can work together to accomplish something.” But after what has happened this week, I wonder if that is still possible.

I have some hope that the actions at the Capitol have broken the division and hatred that categorized Donald Trump’s presidency but I don’t think this division started because of Trump. He was not the cause of this disease, he was a symptom. You can see this disease alive and well in Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley among other members of congress. If we look a little deeper, this division is not necessarily their fault either. We the people voted to put these people in the Senate and their friends in the House. If we the people were truly disgusted by this, they would not have been elected, so you have to think, maybe this is who we the people are today. Divided. So in this hyperpolarized world, how can we not have the workplace, the last bastion of bipartisan collaboration, turn into yet another echo chamber.

The internet took great pleasure in finding the people at the capitol and calling them out where they were subsequently fired from their jobs. A lawyer from Texas, a CEO from Chicago, the list goes on. I don’t know that you even had to be inside the Capitol building for you to have been fired from your job. Simply being at the rally, supporting Trump is probably enough to not have you fit into many company “values”. I personally think these people are misguided but they probably think some of the things I stand for are dangerous. Medicare for all, they feel like is a slippery slope to socialism. Black Lives Matter is a form of reverse racism, they may say. How does a Republican, from the middle of the country, who instead fights for “All Lives Matter”, find a place in liberal tech companies?

As a leader, the question is what do we do? Should you stand up for what you believe in? The CEO of Expensify sent an email to their users telling them to reject Donald Trump and vote for Joe Biden. I think that is a bold statement, he is speaking his truth, and fighting for what he believes in. But, what about the 45% of the country that didn’t vote for Joe Biden? How does an employee in the middle of the country, working in rural America, who is against abortion, and voting for republicans feel about this? Personally, I would be disgusted. If the CEO of a company I worked for sent an email saying to vote for Donald Trump or else the country would devolve into socialism, I would leave.

The result is that we are polarized in our politics, our families, on social media and now at work. Are we going to start having liberal places to work and conservative places to work? “Oh you are a Trump supporter? You don’t pass the culture test, this is not a fit.” “Oh you aren’t wearing a MAGA hat, this is not the place for you.” Maybe entire industries will be off limits to certain people with different political leanings. The tech community gets a lot of blowback for being too liberal, but it is also the future of the world, and where a lot of high paying jobs are. So, are we in fact deepening the divide in the country and helping to create two Americas? Do we have enough tolerance for non-liberal ideas in our companies? Is the rise of tech, the concentration of wealth, and the popularization of liberal ideas causing some in the country to hunker down, and plan for a second civil war? Have we created companies and by extension a country that is so exclusive and difficult for some people to find a place in that they are storming the Capitol, overdosing on opioids, committing suicide, and contemplating overthrow of the government?

I don’t know the answer to these questions but as I look forward to a new administration in the White House, I’m also thinking about my company culture. As we build our team, I’m conscious of building a company that looks like America. I want my company to be an example to show that it’s possible for our country to come together to accomplish great things. Black and white, women and men, and yes, Republican and Democrat. I firmly believe that people with different ideas, not filled with hate, can work together and be extraordinary. So, let’s do it, let’s solve hard problems, and be a role model for how the world should work. Together. As one.

Albert Swantner

Albert is CTO of Mobile Tech RX, a startup in Austin, a 2020 Culturati Fellow & a Notley Fellow, and co-chair of Culturati Summit 2021

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Culturati is a community of CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors and other c-suite leaders who practice & study culture building and share our play books.

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