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Businesses have the opportunity to reduce polarization in communities, Milwaukee leaders say

Businesses have the opportunity to reduce polarization in communities, Milwaukee leaders said during the Greater Milwaukee Committee's monthly membership meeting Monday.

"No comment is a very loud comment," said Bob Feldman, founder of The Dialogue Project, who led the discussion reflecting on the growing pressure for businesses to speak out, especially from their own employee population.

"Some of these issues of 2020, they're exhausting," said President and CEO of Versiti Chris Miskel. "They're challenging and it's just hard."

Miskel shared how he, and other business executives, were traditionally advised to stay away from controversy during his leadership training.

"What might have been appropriate a year ago or three years ago or five years ago in a certain environment and context, it may no longer be the appropriate action," Miskel said. "So inaction may be worse."

The majority of people in the U.S. said it is more difficult with the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement to have respectful dialogue with people who hold differing views, according to a survey this summer by The Dialogue Project. Politics and race were identified as the hardest subjects to have constructive conversations about in the survey. A workplace is often the place outside of people's chosen social bubbles of people with similar viewpoints, Feldman said.

The leaders agreed it would benefit businesses, in the long run, to engage in reducing polarization.

"I think more and more, the choice about which companies you want to work with are going to be made on how they're perceived relative to some of these concepts," said Children's Wisconsin President and CEO Peggy Troy.

"When our employees feel like they’re heard and that they matter and that they belong and when we can create an environment for them to be able to participate safely, then you have productive teams which result in a culture that will help attract and maintain the best talent in your field," said President of Bartolotta and Associates Jennifer Bartolotta.

Reducing polarization starts with listening, Feldman said.

"People don’t really listen," Feldman said during the virtual member meeting. "What they do is just wait for the other person to stop talking so that they can. I try to often say to people, ‘You know, what do you think the odds are that you are going to convert somebody to a different way of thinking? When was the last time that happened to you? If the odds of it are pretty slim, why not at least take advantage of the opportunity to rather listen and try to learn that perspective?'"


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