A new place to learn civics: the workplace

A new place to learn civics: the workplace

Peaceful end to the war in Ukraine. That desire was behind the post Simge Kruger made on LinkedIn in March.

In response, people began posting their wishes that their husbands, fathers, and brothers die in the war. Seeing that she lived in Germany, they called her a Nazi.

“I was just talking about peace and I suddenly became a Nazi,” Ms. Kruger, a Turkish citizen who lives in Hamburg, said in an interview.

Weeks later, sitting in a workshop led by a pro-democracy organization, she understood what had happened in that shocking moment. The insult had nothing to do with his ethnic background or political leanings. Those targeting his comments were trying to stoke emotions and polarize a world divided over issues such as Russia’s war in Ukraine, gender identity and climate change.

The best way to protest, he was taught in class, was not to try to explain his position or defend himself, but to ask probing questions.

,People who believe in conspiracy theories usually just have a line of reasoning, but nothing behind it,” she said. “When you start carving their iceberg, you quickly realize there’s no depth to it.”

These lessons come from an eight-week program offered by her employer, Heise, a multinational recruitment firm with 3,500 employees in Germany. The company said the project is in line with its objective of strengthening democratic values ​​and making its employees more flexible.

Throughout Germany, several hundred companies have participated in such workshops, and similar classes are being held in other Western countries, including the United States. Businesses are finding they need to strengthen their workforce amid increasingly heated political debates. Seminars on civics and democratic principles – such as the importance of voting or recognizing the dangers of disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate speech – have become a way to ensure healthy relationships in the workplace and in society at large. Other than this, The report shows that economic growth It is higher in stable democracies, and liberal border policies allow companies to attract skilled immigrants.

Since the initial offering that Ms. Kruger attended, Hays has trained more individual employees and incorporated elements of the workshops into its companywide mandatory training, said Mimoza Murselli, a project coordinator for diversity and inclusion at Hays. Is.

Ms Murselli said being trained on how to recognize and respond to hate speech and misinformation has made staff more confident in doing their jobs.

“It gave us the confidence to stick to our guns.”

groups like Business Council for Democracy And veltofense saxen in germany and Civic Alliance Or Leadership Now Project In the United States they organize workshops like the one Ms. Kruger attended, provide research and webinars, and support civic education and get-out-the-vote efforts – all of it non-partisan. Most are non-profit organizations, supported by independent foundations or groups of businesses that rely on their political independence as a selling point.

In Germany, the Network for Democracy and Courage has offered various workshops on civics and democracy for schools and youth for more than two decades. But five years ago, it was approached by a group of businesses in the eastern state of Saxony, where far-right politicians are attracting more followers.

Nina Garber, the organization’s project manager, said a key principle of the workshops was that they should be voluntary for employees. They will also have to remain ideologically neutral and not target members of any group or any political party.

“It’s not like companies come to us and say, ‘We have a section where three racists are sitting,’” Ms. Gieber said. “That would be completely unrealistic.”

Germany is far from reaching the levels of political polarization that have ravaged the United States. But the arrival of more than 1 million immigrants in 2015 and 2016 has sparked debate.

During this time, a far-right party, Alternative for Germany, or AfD, has disrupted the country’s political landscape by adopting nationalist, anti-immigration policies. The AfD, known for pushing boundaries and a more confrontational, aggressive style of politics, is gaining support; Recent polls show more than one in five Germans are supporting the party, up from 10 percent in the 2021 election.

Reflecting this change, the tone of public discussion has become more raw. Kerstin Schultheiss, managing director of the Leipziger Group, sees this at her company, which employs 5,000 people providing public services in the city of Leipzig.

Many managers told him about increasing tensions in his dealings with employees as well as the public. Common flash points were the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, as ordered by the government Save energy or Russia’s war in Ukraine. Employees face harsh comments that go beyond a simple disagreement or complaint, he said, especially those who deal with the public, such as tram drivers.

“There are people who think differently and express this difference in a way that is not acceptable,” Ms. Schultheiss said.

When he heard about civics training offered by the Business Council for Democracy, She applied to participate.

Ms. Schultheiss said, “We have to create a place where all employees feel comfortable and create a working environment in which they can work and work well, and in which they are not harassed by anyone because of their political views “

Training offerings vary. In Germany, media literacy has been an important issue, while in the United States programs often focus on teaching employees how government works and voting rights. But their core premise is to empower employees to understand how their actions inside and outside the workplace affect the political climate and, ultimately, their own jobs.

At Nomos Glashütte, a Saxony-based luxury watches maker, company leaders worry that if the AfD comes to power, customers and potential employees could be driven away, threatening their business.

“Democracy is the foundation of our entrepreneurial activity,” said Judith Borowski, managing director of Nomos, which offers civics workshops to its employees. “And if we no longer have democracy, our base of entrepreneurial activity will also be greatly reduced.”

The idea behind the Business Council for Democracy workshops is to fill the gaps in workers’ knowledge of the fundamentals of the democratic system, especially in digital civic culture. Programs teach how to identify and question conspiracy theories and disinformation, with the goal of strengthening personal responsibility and resilience against polarizing content.

Debates are an essential part of the program and all workshops remain completely confidential. What’s said in the room, stays in the room, fostering a space where people can be open and vulnerable. Some are held in person but most are online, which is easier for people who work shifts.

Sessions are run once a week, during working hours, for eight weeks. A trained mediator brings a topic for discussion. In case of identifying disinformation, the moderator can show examples of comments or images circulated on social media.

For example, during the pandemic in 2020, when government lockdowns prevented Germans from socializing and holiday celebrations were cancelled, a photo began going viral in which several prominent politicians are standing side by side, smiling And mugs of warm wine are shared, with comments also expressed. The idea is that those who made the rules were allowed to break them, while others were not.

After discussing the image, participants were shown how to check when it was taken. In the case of politicians having fun, it came from 2019, a year before the pandemic.

“For the training, we use very concrete examples to make it clear what is happening, how they are being used,” said Suzanne Planert, a personnel policy expert from Leipzig, who was asked to lead the workshops. Has been trained.

Another example she likes to use is taking an image of an article from one of the country’s major news outlets and running it through a digital tool that lets the user change the wording in the headline. A screenshot of the new version with the changed offensive or inflammatory title can be immediately posted on social media.

“This kind of technical gimmick could have a huge impact,” he said. “Every time I do this in a training session, it has an ‘ah-ha’ effect because it makes it clear how easy it is to manipulate information.”

A lack of understanding of civics among employees has come to the attention of businesses in both Germany and the United States in recent years.

In Germany, the focus has been particularly on the former East German regions, where democracy has existed since the reunification of Germany in 1990. In the United States, surveys point to Declining understanding of civics among adults.Both situations lead to weak social discourse and trust in public institutions.

Employers are realizing that they are in a unique position to fill the information gap. According to Pew Research Center, only 17 percent of Americans trust officials in power in Washington to do the right thing. But business is seen as an institution that is both ethical and efficient. Edelman Trust Barometer,

Many young people now hope Steven Levin, director of the Civic Alliance, a non-partisan coalition of more than 1,300 businesses in the United States, including Microsoft, McDonald’s, Target and Ecolab, said his employers advocate for civic issues.

“In recent years, companies have viewed themselves as an important collective stabilizing force, helping to preserve the norms of democracy,” Mr. Levin said.

Misinformation can create turmoil in the market. In May, black smoke is seen rising in an image created by artificial intelligence Pentagon shares briefly fell. But a major focus of employers in the United States has been on voting. Mr. Levin cited companies like Patagonia that closed stores and offices on Election Day to allow employees to vote and voluntarily participate in voting, and National Basketball Association The decision to play all 30 teams the day before Election Day 2022, using the opportunity to encourage fans to vote, and not scheduling any games the following day.

As next year’s presidential election approaches, companies are concerned about the potential for instability, said Daniela Ballou-Ares, chief executive of the Leadership Now Project, a group of U.S. business leaders dedicated to promoting and protecting democracy. There is an organization of leaders.

He cited the legal battle between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the crushing defeat by Delta Air Lines. Consumers react to law restricting voting in Georgia.


Something similar happened with German watch manufacturing company Nomos. In 2018, an angry mob led by far-right politicians protested in a town near the company’s headquarters, chanting slogans against immigrants and chasing away dark-skinned bystanders. News footage of the glitch was seen by customers as far away as New York, who called the company to express concern.

“We felt that this kind of politics could cause serious harm to the place,” said Ms Borowski, the managing director. Fearing the spread of destructive ideas among its employees, the company began holding civics workshops.

Ms Ballou-Ares said that as markets and policymakers grapple with wars in Europe and the Middle East, instability in one leading country is bound to spill over into other countries.

“If you see a disruption of democracy in a major economy,” “It’s going to be a big thing,” she said.

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