A sweeping generalization is an overarching or overly broad statement or opinion in which a general idea or rule is applied too widely, without allowing any exceptions to it. Perhaps you have heard the following sweeping generalization: Corporate America is evil. I am here to sweep that generalization into the dustbin with a few examples of noteworthy exceptions.
I will make the disclaimer that there are corporations — Koch Industries is a good example — that truly act in bad faith.
In 2016, ahead of the general election, Rose Marcario, the chief executive of outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia, decided that Patagonia would close all its stores and distribution centers on Election Day to give employees the opportunity to vote. Patagonia’s public relations director J.J. Huggins shared with me that Patagonia wanted to send the message that “Nothing was more important than voting on Election Day.”
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In 2018, Patagonia joined forces with Levi Strauss and PayPal in founding “Time to Vote.” In 2018, 411 companies across the United States participated in Time to Vote. In 2020, that number had increased to nearly 2,000. These companies joined the nonpartisan, business-led movement to make sure workers never have to choose between earning a paycheck and casting their ballot. The list of participating companies is available at maketimetovote.org.
Participating companies and business leaders pledge to give their employees time off to vote in an election. There is no prescribed procedure. Rather, it is up to each individual business how to do it.
The movement is a part of a larger trend toward civic engagement and protecting our democracy. The rationale is that it makes good business sense and that the business community can take a leadership role in strengthening our democratic institutions.
Companies that encourage and communicate about voting can score multiple victories with such an approach. A July 2018 Global Strategy Group survey found that 76% of people were more likely to work for a company that promoted democracy, 81% were more likely to buy that company’s products or services, and 81% were more likely to recommend the company to their friends or family.
Sarah Bonk started the civic organization Business for America after realizing that business engagement would be essential to overcoming political partisanship. Bonk states that her organization “is not only nonpartisan but anti-partisan, with the aim of uniting Americans on both sides of the aisle under broadly shared goals.” Business for America is affiliated with Time to Vote.
Walmart, Nike, Bank of America, and Warby Parker were a few of the retail brands that joined the Time to Vote coalition in 2020. Walmart offered three paid hours to vote. The Coca-Cola Co. made Nov. 3, 2020, a paid holiday for all full-time, U.S.-based employees to provide extra time and flexibility to vote, volunteer and support campaigns and elections in local communities.
Eyeglass retailer Warby Parker provided employees with two hours paid time off to vote. Warby Parker also encouraged its employees to sign up as poll workers as a part of their 16 hours of paid-leave volunteer benefit time. Chief Executive Neil Blumenthal said that “civic engagement is something we’ve always been vocal about, and we believe the business community plays a critical role in ensuring every eligible citizen has the opportunity and resources they need to vote in safe and fair elections.”
American democracy and its institutions continue to weaken. In 2018, The Economist downgraded the United States from “full democracy” to “flawed democracy” due to an erosion of public trust in political institutions. The nonprofit Freedom House conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights. It publishes an annual report assessing the condition of political rights and civil liberties in each country. It says the health of U.S. democracy has “weakened significantly” and warns “against assuming American institutions can indefinitely withstand” what it describes as attacks on the pillars of the U.S. republic.
Some in the business community understand that strengthening our democracy is imperative for a strong, thriving economy. To put it bluntly, democracy is good for business. That is why some companies are taking steps to improve our civic health by increasing civic participation and voter turnout.
The way to combat sweeping generalizations is by highlighting exceptions. The 1,960 (and growing) companies that are committed to civic engagement are exceptional exceptions to the rule.
Lynn Schmidt is a Post-Dispatch columnist and Editorial Board member. email@example.com On Twitter: @lynnschmidtrn