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Here’s Why I Brought 2018 Election Candidates to Speak at My Company

Civic engagement is critical for the health of our democracy. In a time of increasingly polarized opinions, healthy discourse seems to have fallen to the wayside. We’re getting more comfortable with—and even demanding—strongly worded executive statements on important social issues, but most of us still succumb to the taboo surrounding mixing politics and work in everyday conversations.

As business leaders, we have an opportunity to change this. Our team members spend most of their waking hours at work, in environments that many leaders have endeavored to make as respectful and open as possible. Disagreements happen. At great companies, these disagreements are critical to enabling their business success.

So why don’t we use this unique environment to bridge the very divide that we lament in our society today? Make no mistake—leaders shouldn’t be giving soapbox diatribes or blog rants, imposing their personal beliefs on others. But leaders can create environments that encourage authentic and open conversations.

Creating this change starts at home. For me, that’s Colorado—a critical state in the 2018 midterm elections. I decided to test our belief in civil discourse by inviting the key politicians running for statewide office, including gubernatorial candidates Jared Polis (Democrat) and Walker Stapleton (Republican) and attorney general candidates Phil Weiser (Democrat) and George Brauchler (Republican), to join us for four separate 45-minute in-person conversations at our headquarters.

Meaningful civic engagement requires asking tough questions, so we challenged our employees to submit questions ahead of time to ensure we represented varying perspectives and priorities. Each candidate answered questions on criminal justice reform, immigration, abortion, and global warming, to name a few.

I was proud of the policy discussions resulting from each interview, but I honestly didn’t think we were doing something unique. I assumed candidates must be used to speaking at forums like this. Apparently, I was wrong. One gubernatorial candidate told me the visit to our office was the only nonpartisan setting he’d been invited to speak at during his entire run for public office. Unlike the typical fundraisers or special interest luncheons in rooms full of supporters, his visit to Convercent was his first chance to speak with a group of people of diverse political affiliations and differing levels of political engagement.

My motivation in holding these events and talking about politics at work more broadly is not to encourage employees to vote for any candidate in particular, but to provide the time and tools to engage in the process. Many organizations have made similar commitments to civic engagement—for the upcoming elections, over 300 companies have pledged paid time off to their employees so they can vote. When business leaders commit to helping employees get to the polls and make sure they feel informed once they get there, we all benefit as a society.

My greatest hope is that once these elections are over, people will not shrug their shoulders and consider their civic duty complete until the next time they visit the polls. Nov. 7 is as good a day as any to roll up your sleeves, engage in the civic process, and continue to have respectful, curious conversations with people that may not think the same as you.

As business leaders, we cannot close ourselves off from the broader world and attempt to separate our companies from society at large. We have a responsibility to effect positive change where we can. This election is an opportunity to set an example and start the conversation.

Patrick Quinlan is the co-founder and CEO of Convercent.