CEOs Are Filling Leadership Gap on Religion & Tolerance

One year ago, President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, reasoning that “Islam hates us.” Recently, President Trump re-Tweeted three misleading, anti-Muslim videos from a hate group in the UK. His staff defended him, reasoning that it’s okay to endorse fake videos from crackpots because “the threat is real.”

Compare this with George W. Bush, who, six days after 9/11, visited a mosque to make an important point: “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is about… In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.” If your Arab neighbor is afraid to visit the grocery store alone, Bush explained, it’s your job as an American to go with her. He had good company: 44 years before Bush visited that mosque, President Eisenhower attended its dedication.

According to the FBI, the number of hate crimes in the U.S. increased 5 percent last year and 7 percent the year before that. Attacks on Muslims have doubled since 2014. Attacks against other religious groups are also up. For example, attacks against Jews are up 67 percent. Four in 10 Americans now worry a great deal about race relations – three times more than 2010.

With President Trump attacking Muslims, Hispanics, immigrants, and refugees – and defending white supremacists in Charlottesville – it’s up to each of us to follow President Bush’s example.

Fortunately, we’re getting help from some of our most respected CEOs. America’s best-managed companies have learned that the best approach is to address intolerance directly, increasing the amount of time they spend training their managers and communicating with their employees. For employees dealing with intolerance at work, leadership from the top helps. For employees worried about saying the wrong thing, leading companies are producing briefing materials and videos to help encourage candid conversation. They are also working together. This fall, CEOs from 300 of America’s most respected companies launched CEO Action, sharing ideas, content, and best practices.

Yes, it’s good business. Companies managing (and embracing) America’s growing diversity attract new customers and better workers. Naturally, they outperform their competitors.

But there is a greater truth: If we can’t fix it at work, we will have a harder time fixing it anywhere else. America’s growing more polarized, in part, because it’s getting easier for Americans to avoid hearing from people with whom they disagree. We read different newspapers, live in different neighborhoods, and engage in social media that affirms our point of view. The office may be one of America’s least segregated environments: the only place where many of us spend significant time around people with different religious or political views.

Jim Doyle is the President of Business Forward, a national business organization based in Washington, D.C.