Jemele Hill has been a sports reporter since 1997, but she truly became a household name in 2017 when she was entangled in the one of the most contentious political debates in sports history. Through this process she learned what it means to stand up for what you believe in how to tackle politics at work.
In February of 2017, Hill was co-hosting ESPN's flagship sports news show, SportsCenter, with Michael Smith. As journalists, Hill and her co-anchor covered how NFL players were peacefully protesting police brutality. As President Trump began firing insults against these players, Hill became more vocal. When Trump said that there were "some very fine people on both sides" of the violent Unite the Right protest held by White Nationalists and Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville Virginia, Hill spoke out once again.
She tweeted, "Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists."
The comments caused backlash from the White House and from her employer. President Trump personally attacked her on Twitter and in one press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders described Hill's words as a "fireable offense."
Hill was suspended by ESPN for two weeks for violating their social media policy and moved to The Undefeated, an ESPN-owned digital news site that describes itself as the "the premier platform for exploring the intersections of race, sports and culture," in January of 2018.
Last week, Variety reported that Hill will be parting ways with ESPN. Author James Miller, who wrote a book about ESPN, was the first to break the news, tweeting that Hill had accepted a buyout of her contract and would be amicably leaving the company on September 1st.
As Hill and the rest of the nation moves forward with the political conversations that inevitably impact all aspects of our lives, her story can teach us all how to tackle politics at work. CNBC Make It spoke with Hill earlier this month at Ozy Fest and this was her advice on the subject:
This first step of tackling politics at work is deciding if they need to be tackled at all. "I think you need to pick and choose your battles," says Hill.
Workers should always weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks before they begin a political conversation while on the job.
"There is a level of discomfort when discussing politics at work depending on what those politics are." explains Hill. "If it's one of those stances where [workers] feel like if they don't take it [on], they can't live with themselves, then they have to be aware of what the consequences are and be O.K. with accepting whatever comes their way."
Understand that discomfort, awkwardness or more serious professional consequences can arise from having a political conversation at work. The key is trusting your gut and knowing what you are willing to stand up for and what issues you can leave unaddressed.
In order to determine if a topic must be addressed or if it can be written off as a matter of opinion, workers need to understand the difference between politics and morality says Hill.
"We have to make the distinction between what is political and was just simply right and wrong," she explains. "Those are two different things."
By thinking in terms of morality instead of politics, workers are more able to clearly define what needs to be addressed and what does not. "I think a lot of people want to throw everything in the bag of 'politics,' when a lot of it is just about right and wrong and taking what should be a proper moral stance," she says.
This distinction should not only inform when you decide to talk about politics at work but also how you talk about politics at work. By bringing contentious issues to their moral root, workers from all backgrounds are more likely to find common ground.
Finally, if workers decide that they need to discuss a tense issue at work, they need to be prepared to put in the work. This means having thoughtful, calm and respectful conversations in person and online. Remaining professional and polite is not always easy when having political conversations, but it is a crucial part of having a constructive conversation.
"I do think that there's a way to certainly operate in corporate America without compromising yourself," says Hill. "It is not always easy. It certainly isn't without you having to have a whole bunch of conversations and e-mail chains and all that, but I think it is possible."
While communicating respectfully online is crucial, Hill says that it's best to start these conversations in-person. "A lot of those conversations can be handled in-house privately one on one," she says. It's not always easy, but sometimes connecting face-to-face can help two people on either side of a tense topic see eye-to-eye.
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