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Yes, Donald Trump Won. Here’s How to Talk About It at Work

Businessman looking out glass wall in officeBusinessman looking out glass wall in office

So, now we know.

This is Brexit squared,” wrote Time Inc.’s Chief Content Officer Alan Murray in his CEO Daily newsletter. “Angry American voters rose up and walloped the establishment, handing the U.S. presidency to Donald Trump, and making fools of pollsters, pundits, political reporters, and a lot of other people in the process.” He is absolutely right. We are all walking into a new reality.

But it’s breakfast—not Brexit—the people in my inbox and feeds are worried about. “What do I tell my kids?” one Latina mother texted me this morning. “They think a wall is coming to their school.” Muslim women are being reassured that to not wear hijab is an acceptable survival strategy. After all, the new president has vowed to deport them. People are terrified.

This has been an interesting study in power. The president-elect lost three debates, has no government experience, bullies people on television and social media, and has given no indication that he is prepared to lead a divided nation. His policy ideas are light. He was openly endorsed by a hate group. He has been accused of sexual assault and fraud. And he’s repeatedly undermined the legitimacy of the first black president, painting him as a secret foreigner, an uppity usurper of American power. He ran on a platform of righting that wrong.

And millions of white women and men—college educated, young, old, affluent, and working class—voted for him in droves. Yes, what should we tell the kids?

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This was precisely the point that commentator Van Jones made in remarks on CNN last night. This is a nightmare scenario for the millions of people who were directly threatened by the rhetoric embraced by the Trump campaign. And try as we might, there is no way to look at this outcome without considering the racial anxiety that lies at its heart. “This was a whitelash against a changing country, against a black president in part,” Jones said. “And that’s the part where the pain comes.”


We’re going to have to do some tough work to figure each other out.

But it’s worth remembering that this is still the same country that fights for equal pay and living wages, created the Movement for Black Lives and #NoDAPL; that says it’s important to lean in and #LeadLikeAGirl; and believes that if we become My Brother’s Keeper, we can save kids of color and ourselves in the process. We are the same country where powerful business leaders are increasingly weighing in on the big issues of race, inclusion, and justice that continue to vex their employees, customers, and communities.

So, let’s work together. How are you preparing to lead your teams? How are you navigating the water cooler? The board room? Where are you finding hope? What do you need?

Here’s the only thing that we know doesn’t work: Silence. “It’s important to remember from the psychological research that the worst thing you can do is never talk about race or gender in the workplace,” says Frank Dobbin, Harvard professor and researcher. That’s why leadership has to come first. It’s the strange and amazing art of allowing people to grow into their own capacity to be seen, heard, and do their work.

When times seem darkest, it’s time to let our little lights shine.


Ellen McGirt is a senior editor at Fortune.