There’s no escaping office politics. It might get a bad rap, but the ability to network, build relationships, and influence others is critical in any workplace. Unfortunately, research has shown that all too often, office politics is a white man’s game, as women and ethnic minorities often have less powerful networks and benefit less from engaging in politics than their white, male counterparts do.
To make matters worse, attempts to address this inequity often focus on “fixing” the people who are excluded, encouraging them to develop their political skills, get more comfortable with politics, or temper their reactions, rather than acknowledging organizations’ roles in creating cultures of toxic, non-inclusive office politics. Of course, there’s certainly a place for this well-intentioned advice for individuals — but to make meaningful change, leaders must take action to foster more-inclusive cultures on an organizational level.
To explore what organizations can do to promote healthy office politics, we conducted in-depth interviews with 40 mid-career ethnic minority employees working in a wide range of industries across the UK. We asked them to describe their experiences of politics at work, and how their workplace environments influenced their own willingness to engage in politics. We then used a statistical model to analyze their responses and identify common profiles of more- and less-inclusive cultures.
Toxic cultures lead to disengagement from office politics
Unsurprisingly, many of the people we talked to shared extremely negative experiences with office politics. They told us stories of feeling excluded from informal relationships, being overlooked or pushed aside by managers, and witnessing underhanded behavior from their peers. One participant explained how it was “an impossible task to break into those cliques and establish yourself.” Another vividly described the brutality of their workplace, saying, “They’ll slit your throat in front of you over there. They’ve got no issues about that.” Others recounted times when they were scapegoated or stepped over: “I’d been sidelined because [the managers] took the credit,” one participant recalled.
Our analysis also demonstrated that toxic office politics cultures can be created and perpetuated at any level of the organization. One participant described how their manager “started bringing his friends in, so I got moved to a lower position,” while others described how their peers “played the game” that was “all about trying to get the other person down.”
In response to these toxic cultures, many of the people we talked to disengaged from politics, keeping their heads down and redoubling their work efforts rather than joining the political melee. For example, one interviewee told us that participating in their workplace’s office politics meant “you’re willing to bend the rules and you’re willing to bully, you’re willing to step on people, and morally, to me, I don’t agree with that, so I would not be part of that social club, so I haven’t [progressed].” Another explained, “I didn’t get involved in the politics; just did a good job and that was it.” Some even sought to leave their jobs entirely: “I wasn’t confident I would succeed because of the cliquiness of the organization,” a participant shared, “so I looked for jobs elsewhere.” These reactions are understandable — but the problem with avoiding the political arena is that it can lead employees to miss out on the vital development opportunities and relationships they need to get things done and advance their careers.
Inclusive cultures foster participation in healthy office politics
The good news is, not everyone we interviewed experienced office politics negatively. Some people shared stories of supportive cultures in which managers proactively included minority employees in the types of political activity necessary to build relationships, be effective in their jobs, and advance in their organizations. For example, one participant explained how their boss “ensured that [career growth] was made easier, because she had done the engaging with all the right stakeholders beforehand.” Managers in these workplaces actively nurtured employees, leveraging politics to build connections rather than keep people down: “Well, I wouldn’t like to use the word politics,” another participant reflected. “It’s more like having a proper and professional relationship with the people in authority; [they] understand where I’m coming from [and] appreciate me for who I am.” Other employees shared experiences in which both peers and managers used their clout to stand up for them or provide them with developmental opportunities: “There’s something about having the right support…I’ve been put forward for things and people have thought of me.”
Rather than feeling slimy or underhanded, politics in these organizations were openly acknowledged and even taught to newcomers. “You need to make sure that you’ve got supporters within the organization and that you know how to network well,” an interviewee explained, “and that’s sort of drilled home from a very early point once you join.” Similarly, others described workplaces in which an explicit “focus on involvement in relationships and connectivity [was] ingrained in the culture of the firm” in a way that was helpful and inclusive.
As a result of this approach, employees in these environments felt more comfortable engaging in politics. One worker shared that they used to hesitate to participate in office politics, but after experiencing a more supportive organizational climate, they became “a bit more political in the way I interact with people and recognizing that it’s not just about how well you do your work…it’s about how you go about doing it.” Another described a newfound appreciation for a bit of healthy self-promotion, recognizing that “you do need to get yourself known and recognized by people in a position to help you.”
Of course, building an inclusive culture is easier said than done — but it is possible. Through both our interviews and our broader research on politics, leadership, and inclusion, we’ve identified five strategies to help organizations foster healthier office politics cultures, in which all employees are nurtured and supported:
1. Be transparent.
Talking about politics can be uncomfortable — but failing to do so only benefits those who already have easy access to the political arena. To ensure that all employees are included, it’s critical to be transparent about both the existence and the importance of politics. Leaders, managers, and employees at every level should be encouraged to talk openly about the value of building connections, and to make the informal practices of office politics visible through explicit onboarding processes, mentoring (both by peers and senior staff), talent development programs, employee affinity groups, and other initiatives. In addition, as remote and hybrid work become the norm, it’s important to consider where and how informal connections occur in online spaces, and make sure that all employees are aware of and have access to these structures as well.
2. Ensure access to informal career development resources.
Many organizations aim to foster diversity and inclusion through formal talent development programs. However, this approach doesn’t help when it comes to the informal, unofficial interactions that drive office politics. Indeed, in our prior research, we found that successful career growth requires a mix of both formal and informal resources, and minority employees typically have less access to vital informal resources. To close this gap, organizations should provide mechanisms such as mentorship, sponsorship, and support networks to ensure women and ethnic minority employees have access not only to formal professional development tools, but also to the informal processes that are critical for growth.
3. Reframe politics positively.
In our interviews, we repeatedly heard from employees that they felt it would be distasteful, perhaps even morally repugnant, to engage in office politics. This assumption — that politics are, at best, a necessary evil — can be deeply ingrained, especially among people who are used to being left on the outside. But it is also an assumption that can be challenged: Our prior research found that people’s views on politics can change significantly as a result of their professional experience. As such, leaders should explicitly push back against the view that politics can only be used for self-gain, and instead reframe it as a tool that can help everyone build connections, access opportunities, and get things done. This means finding ways to highlight the value of political behaviors such as negotiation, influencing, and relationship-building at every level of the organization, as well as including political skills alongside other core competencies that are prioritized in professional development programs.
4. Leverage politics to drive inclusion.
All too often, politics are seen as a system that’s designed to keep power with those who have it, and exclude those who don’t. But what if we instead used politics to disrupt entrenched inequalities? There’s no denying that managers play a key role in gatekeeping the political arena, but that also means they’re in the perfect position to encourage fairness rather than favoritism. Organizations should train managers and senior leaders to share their political know-how and leverage their political power across racial and gender lines. For instance, well-respected sponsors can be encouraged to get involved in leadership development programs specifically designed to support women and ethnic minority employees. This both improves employees’ access to senior leaders’ networks, and helps the sponsors better understand the barriers different employees face. They can then use these insights (alongside their political savvy) to advocate for their proteges and come up with more-effective strategies to address obstacles facing employees across the organization.
5. Share success stories.
It’s easy to look past the details of the journey once someone has made it to the top. To normalize politics as a typical component of a professional success story, organizations should formally and informally encourage employees who have “made it” to share their stories — and emphasize examples of times when they benefited from a helping hand, or leveraged inside information and relationships to get ahead or be more effective in their roles. Publicly sharing these experiences helps employees at any level envision a path forward for themselves in which politics plays a positive role.
Office politics has long served as a mechanism for exclusion — but it doesn’t have to. While the negative impact of toxic politics on ethnic minorities and women in the workplace is well known, our research shows that it is possible to build inclusive political cultures, in which politics are instead leveraged for common good. With a thoughtful, inclusive approach, organizations can help all their employees engage and reap the benefits of office politics.
Politics Podcast: Does DeSantis’s Strength Spell Trouble For Trump? – FiveThirtyEight
In last week’s Jan. 6 congressional hearing, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson outlined the days leading up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol and testified that then-President Donald Trump and some people in his administration were aware of the threat of violence. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses how this hearing could affect Americans’ views of Trump and the Republican nominees running in the midterm who support Trump’s “Big Lie.”
The crew also analyzes a new poll from the University of New Hampshire that garnered quite a bit of media attention for complicating the 2024 Republican presidential primaries. And Kaleigh Rogers and Nate Silver compete in an Independence Day-inspired statistics game where they guess how many Americans know the country’s national anthem and how many prefer burgers over hot dogs.
You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.
St. John's MP 'grateful' for political panic buttons amid rising safety concerns – CBC.ca
A federal MP from Newfoundland and Labrador says she’s grateful she carries a government-issued panic button as threats and harassment directed at politicians rises in Canada.
St. John’s East MP Joanne Thompson is one of several members who have used the buttons, also called mobile duress alarms, in recent months. The buttons alert the Parliamentary Protective Service or local police of a safety concern when pressed.
While Thompson said she hasn’t had to use the button while working in St. John’s, she often carries it while in Ottawa.
“Early in the fall, not long after the election, I did have a worrying encounter with a constituent in the riding. And it was at that point I did see the panic button and I was quite grateful for that,” Thompson told CBC News Thursday.
“I was in Ottawa was when I used it the most often. You know, walking to work in the dark, returning in the dark. It was an extra precaution, so I’m grateful for that.”
Thompson said most of her concerns come from emails and social media, saying the rhetoric of others has intensified in recent months. Other MPs have shared stories of harassment, death threats and dangerous messages that caused them to use a panic button.
When asked about how safe she feels in her job, Thompson said she doesn’t allow herself to think that way.
“I don’t engage in back and forth on social media … and I don’t want to really travel the road where I begin to question my safety,” she said. “The people who are sending those messages, I think that’s what they want.”
Scott Matthews, an associate professor of Political Science at Memorial University, says increased use of the panic buttons is likely a response to how people are feeling about the current state of Canadian politics as tension rises between parties.
“People who like one party or feel close to one of the parties tend to feel very far away from and very negatively toward the other parties. This is especially the case between Liberals and Conservatives or between New Democrats and Conservatives. They really dislike each other in a way that isn’t the case in the past,” Matthews told CBC News.
Matthews says he’s seen that trend go through waves in recent decades, but adds the politics of COVID-19 have amplified discord in the short-term.
He believes it could continue when it comes to future elections, especially in areas where races are more contentious.
Even if we disagree on policy, there’s a lot that we have in common. A lot that we share.– Scott Matthews
Asked about what could be done to tackle the overarching issue of rising threats, Thompson said she believes it begins in the classroom.
“We have to create a shift in how we access news, how we question sources…and also how we speak to each other,” she said. “Respect matters, and personal and public safety matters. How we conduct ourselves has a significant role to play in achieving that.”
Matthews says things can be done by the politicians at the centre of the issue, especially regarding the use of hateful rhetoric.
It’s one thing to disagree, he said, but it’s another to suggest that disagreement creates enemies in politics.
“Panic buttons, and more generally kind of securing our political system against conflict, is not any kind of solution. That’s the sign of a problem, in fact,” he said.
“What we kind of need to be doing is finding ways to reduce the heated rhetoric and to depolarize our political system.… Even if we disagree on policy, there’s a lot that we have in common. A lot that we share.”
The Nightmare Politics and Sticky Science of Hacking the Climate – Canada's National Observer
One way to fight climate change may be to … do more climate change. “Geoengineering” is a broad term encompassing distinct techniques for hacking the climate, split into two main groups: There’s carbon dioxide removal (CDR), which could mean sucking carbon out of the atmosphere with machines, or simply encouraging more vegetation to grow. And there’s solar radiation management (SRM), which might include brightening clouds or spraying aerosols in the atmosphere to bounce the sun’s energy back into space.
These two methods are sort of like different approaches to battling a seasonal flu.
Carbon removal is like taking an antiviral, which helps your immune system banish the virus from your body; deleting carbon from the atmosphere similarly targets the root cause of the climate change problem. On the other hand, solar radiation management is more like taking an aspirin to reduce the fever the flu is causing. It doesn’t obliterate the problem-causing agent, and only treats symptoms.
Each technique comes with huge risks—be they political or planetary, obvious or hidden—that scientists are just beginning to explore. But they’re worth thinking about now, because some scientists are taking geoengineering seriously and urging more studies to consider it as a way to bring down global temperatures while governments tackle decarbonizing the world economy.
Risks All the Way Down
Let’s take solar radiation management first, specifically stratospheric aerosol injection, or SAI. The idea is to introduce sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, which would generate aerosols that would cool the planet by wrapping around it like an energy-reflecting blanket. (Volcanic plumes do the same thing naturally.) At least theoretically, SAI would immediately bring down temperatures, exposing fewer people, animals, and plants (including crops) to heat stress.
You might think you’d need vast squadrons of planes to spray every inch of the sky, but the atmosphere actually does this dispersal itself. The neat thing about the stratosphere is that you can inject it with something—let’s say pink glitter—and it’ll spread all over the world, turning the skies shiny and rosy. If that’s the kind of thing you’re into.
The nightmare politics and sticky science of hacking the climate. #ClimateChange #Geoengineering
But who would be desperate enough to take this chance? It probably depends on where people live. How badly a region is suffering from climate change—and is projected to suffer in the future—will define its politics regarding geoengineering. As world governments drag their feet on reducing emissions, some nations might grow desperate to try SAI as a stop-gap measure.
“It’s in general called ‘the thermostat problem,’ the problem that countries actually have different preferences over where the hypothetical global thermostat would be set,” says Duke University political scientist Tyler Felgenhauer, who studies the risks of SAI.
Climate risks like supercharged hurricanes, flooding, and sea-level rise have disproportionately affected coastal nations. “There are indications that people, for example, in small island states, which are more threatened by climate change, might be more willing to accept risks from SAI,” says Christine Merk, deputy director of the Research Center Global Commons and Climate Policy at the Kiel Institute, who researches public perceptions of geoengineering. And that might mean they are willing to take risks with consequences that may be borne elsewhere. “What do you weigh higher: the lives of people threatened by climate change, or the lives threatened by SAI?” she asks. “That’s in the end a moral judgment.”
How governments make that judgment will likely have to do with whether citizens and their legislators are convinced there is a climate emergency. “If you’re afraid of the breakdown of the climate system, you might accept this fix,” says Merck.
And, says Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, leaders will have to be convinced that taking drastic but risky action is better than doing nothing. “You cannot look at the risks of [solar radiation management] in isolation—you have to look at the risk of doing versus not doing, and then compare which world is going to be better or worse,” he says.
Altering the climate will affect every nation on Earth. We all share one atmosphere. So who gets to make such a momentous decision? “One has to include the key different stakeholders that will be impacted in different ways. It is very easy to say this—it’s extremely difficult to do it,” Pasztor says. “But that’s what we need to do. And so the international community needs to start serious conversations about how one actually does that.”
Yet it’s hard to imagine (ideally) getting buy-in from all the nations of the world, much less the competing political and cultural factions within those nations. The United Nations tried in 2019 with a resolution calling for more research of geoengineering, but the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil blocked it. Even within a single country, this idea can be contentious. For example, last year Sweden rejected a small-scale test of stratospheric aerosols. It is, perhaps alarmingly, easier to imagine a rogue state from going it alone, or an eccentric billionaire taking it upon themselves.
And if getting political consensus before deployment might be difficult, imagine what would happen afterward if things go wrong. Consider a scenario in which the world somehow agrees on an SAI program, and cooperates on rolling it out. All seems to be going smoothly, until a hurricane or drought strikes a particular country, whose political leadership blames it on geoengineering. “The problem is that as you ramp up a program, there might be some climate catastrophe somewhere in the world that people may blame on solar geoengineering, when in fact it’s actually just climate change,” says Felgenhauer. “Those first few years, it might be hard to distinguish between: Well, was that event climate change, or was that due to the solar geoengineering gone poorly?”
While solar geoengineering research is still preliminary, already there are hints that it might lead to some particularly strange and unexpected side effects. A paper published in April in the journal Nature Communications concluded that the global cooling caused by SAI might actually expose more people to malaria. (Hotter conditions make it harder for mosquitoes to survive and transmit the malaria parasite to humans.)
“Most of the focus has been on: Would it work? Do we have the technology to do it? Do we think we could actually bring down temperatures worldwide?” says Georgetown University global change biologist Colin Carlson, lead author of the study. “There’s been a lot less focus on the kind of questions that we’re asking in this study, which is: OK, well, how would this affect people?”
Malaria transmission won’t go up or down uniformly across the planet as temperatures rise, according to the researchers’ modeling. They found that cooling caused by geoengineering would put millions of additional people in West Africa at risk of contracting malaria, but in East Africa, it would actually shorten the transmission season, putting fewer people at risk. “All of these kinds of generalizations and rules of thumb that we use, all that sort of mental math that’s like, ‘OK, geoengineering will probably save lives’—that may not work at a global scale, and it definitely doesn’t work for a lot of countries,” says Carlson. “What people want to do with the health impacts of this is to say, ‘Well, it probably won’t be that bad.’ I’m not sure the data is going to come out saying that.”
In a separate study, Carlson posited a different X-factor: The possibility that geoengineering might reduce monsoon rainfall in South Asia. That would make less water available for crops and people. Monsoons also dilute the concentration of the bacteria that causes cholera, which is found in drinking water—if the storms are weaker, more people might get sick.
Let’s imagine that something goes wrong enough that world leaders pull the plug on their geoengineering program, or there’s a global recession or a world war, and it becomes impossible to fly the planes. The spraying suddenly stops. What happens next?
Any climate problems that had been suppressed would resurge, because, like an aspirin, SRM only brings down the fever—it doesn’t eliminate the underlying malady. One 2018 modeling study found that the aerosols would persist in the atmosphere for a year or two after abruptly stopping their distribution. After that, surface temperatures would rise almost a degree Celsius each decade. (For reference, the Paris Climate agreement is designed to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming since the dawn of the Industrial Age.)
Plant and animal species have adapted to less severe temperature swings throughout Earth’s history, but nothing like this. The rapid heat rise would kill people and crops, and damage oceans. Particularly sensitive species, like amphibians, wouldn’t stand a chance. “Obviously, if you had a strong SRM program ongoing and then it suddenly stopped,” says Felgenhauer, “that would be catastrophic environmentally.”
Surely carbon removal would be a less controversial method of geoengineering, right? It seems inherently less risky to filter carbon out of the atmosphere with machines or, even better, restore forests to sequester carbon the natural way. But as it turns out, there are plenty of ways this, too, can go wrong.
The right way to use trees to capture carbon is to encourage the regrowth of whole ecosystems, which simultaneously addresses the biodiversity crisis. The wrong way is to grow a monoculture of trees of a single species, which is the approach often used by carbon credit programs. These programs have some allure: They raise money from corporations, which can then boast to the public how much carbon they’re capturing. But tree farms are nowhere near as efficient at capturing carbon as an intact forest, and they don’t save other species in the process. “A lot of the time, it’s assumed that these kinds of biology-based carbon-removal techniques will automatically create co-benefits, and that’s not true at all,” says Cardiff University social psychologist Emily Cox, who studies public attitudes toward carbon removal. “They have the potential for co-benefits, but the co-benefits need to be very, very carefully managed.”
And exactly how much carbon they remove can vary quite a bit based on variables like the health of the vegetation. “One of the major risks of some of these biology-based proposals is that an assumption gets made that you can easily equate X number of trees to X million tons of carbon without actually looking at what kinds of trees they are, and where they’re being planted,” says Cox. The amount of captured carbon might end up being negligible. “You have a lot of trees, which is brilliant. You haven’t necessarily got the climate benefits.”
Another technique known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS, also relies on a monocrop, usually fast-growing grasses. In this case, the vegetation is burned to produce energy, and the resulting emissions are sequestered underground. But it also comes with its own set of dubious side effects—it would require vast tracts of crops, and huge amounts of water, to make a dent in atmospheric carbon concentrations: A paper that published last month found that in the US alone, scaling up BECCS would expose 130 million Americans to water stress by 2100.
But in a global climate gone bonkers, there are even risks to restoring forests to their former glory, because that glory is increasingly perilous. Supercharged wildfires are now obliterating forests, instead of gently resetting ecosystems to make way for new growth. If you spend a lot of time and money restoring one of these forests to sequester carbon, and then it burns, all of that carbon goes right back into the atmosphere. Or if a given country’s political regime changes, and goes from supporting reforestation to deforestation, you’d have the same problem. Just look at what’s happening in the Amazon.
“I would argue that many proposals for land-based removals could be risky,” says Cox. “Because you’ve got a very, very high risk that either the carbon removal doesn’t happen in the first place, or that it happens, but then in 10 years’ time is reversed.”
The Dreaded “Moral Hazard”
Researchers have developed a way to mimic natural carbon sequestration with a technique called direct air capture, or DAC. These machines suck in air, pass it over membranes to remove the carbon dioxide, and pump it underground, locking it away forever. The tide may be shifting towards DAC in the US. Last month, the Biden administration threw in $3.5 billion to back direct air capture. (That comes five years after a California congressman introduced a bill that would fund the research of geoengineering, but it never went anywhere.)
But this, too, faces two big issues. The first is that DAC exists at nowhere near the scale needed to make a dent in excess atmospheric carbon. One plant that came online in Iceland last year is only capturing the equivalent emissions of 870 cars. A 2021 study calculated that it would take an investment of 1 to 2 percent of global gross domestic product to capture 2.3 gigatons of CO2 a year by 2050—and that’s only a fraction of current annual emissions, which are around 40 gigatons. “There is the risk that we cannot scale and deploy fast enough,” says Benjamin Sovacool, who studies the risks of geoengineering at Aarhus University in Denmark. “It’s looking like the rate at which we’d have to deploy these is unlike any previous energy transition we’ve had, because the scale is so immense.”
The second issue is one of “moral hazard,” or the temptation to lean on DAC as a crutch, instead of doing what’s necessary: dramatically slashing greenhouse gas emissions. If a nation’s leaders anticipate being able to remove emissions via DAC, they don’t need to worry about cutting those emissions in the first place. It’s like waiting for a miracle antiviral—except the requisite dose doesn’t yet exist.
There’s a chance that the extreme and desperate nature of geoengineering might do the opposite—instead of encouraging complacency or a reliance on last-minute technology fixes, it may alarm the public enough that they’ll start to treat climate change like an emergency. But, says Sovacool, “politicians might be even more susceptible to the moral hazard, because they’re only thinking in the present terms. They’ll gladly push as much to future generations as they can.”
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