How Companies Should Respond to Political Events

In the morning On Friday, June 24, Katya Laviolette was sitting in her Montreal kitchen sipping coffee and talking on the phone with a colleague when she learned that the US Supreme Court had voted to dismiss Roe v. pick up calf. As Chief People Officer at 1Password, a Toronto-based password management platform with more than 800 employees – including about 250 in the US – she was concerned that the physical autonomy of some employees was now at risk.

Laviolette took several calls with her team—including the 1Password founders, executives, and communications—to discuss what to do. Laviolette had joined the company in January, so this was the second political event she would address, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But she had some experience: In her previous role as chief people officer at Ssense, an e-commerce company, she had navigated the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. She wrote public statements, researched places for donations, and started a staff resource group.

A photo of Katya Laviolette, Chief People Officer of 1Password
Katya Laviolette, Chief People Office at 1Password (Photo: Richmond Lam)

1Password was recently valued at $6.8 billion, making it one of Canada’s most valuable technology companies, and it has a public profile to match. The company is “open minded,” says Laviolette, and focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion. The leadership felt it was important to go to Roe v. Wade to take a stand.

At the end of this Friday, 1Password sent out a letter to its global employees, which includes employees in the Netherlands and the UK, announcing $5,000 in travel insurance for American employees who are unable to get reproductive health care in their home state. It confirmed the addition of a family-building assistance program for US workers, which would cover things like fertility treatment and adoption. The letter also included a reminder that employees can receive guidance through the company’s employee assistance program. The feedback was positive, but many wondered if the company would make an external statement.

An illustration of people hugging in a circle

Laviolette wanted to wait before speaking publicly. A few days would give the company a chance to consult with its insurance provider to see how they could expand health coverage and thoughtfully search for charities to donate to. It also allowed her to decide what exactly she wanted to say about the situation. “We were a Canadian company taking a stand on an American issue,” says Laviolette. “We didn’t have to be the first out of goal. We took our time to really think about it.”

She spent the weekend strategizing with her team. They debated an external announcement that made it clear that people should have the freedom to choose what to do with their own bodies. What if it backfired? What if they lose customers? What if people on social media disagreed with their decision? Ultimately, however, they saw fit. They decided that the message should come from Laviolette, as she is the leader of the people, and shared on her personal LinkedIn page to show that there was a real person behind the statement – not a faceless brand.

On Monday, June 27th, Laviolette spent a good part of the day writing the public post. She wrote the letter herself, taking feedback from her team into account. She wanted it to feel authentic. “The first draft was dry, very corporate,” says Laviolette. “But that’s not how I speak. I don’t think 1Password speaks like that – we have to speak from our hearts.”

When the post was finished, it conveyed a clear stance on the subject. “1Password was founded 17 years ago in Canada out of a strong belief in equality in the workplace and beyond,” it said. “That hasn’t changed and it won’t. The decision to Roe v. Toppling Wade will have significant repercussions, threatening decades of economic gains for women and depriving them of the right to make deeply personal health decisions.”

The post also included announcing that 1Password would be donating $25,000 to Planned Parenthood and $25,000 to the Women’s United State, as well as a reminder for employees to vote on and volunteer for issues that matter to them to engage in purposes of their choosing. When the post went live, it was reposted on 1Password’s LinkedIn company page. The feedback was consistently positive. Laviolette received more than 80,000 impressions on her post in just a few days, and many 1Password employees shared the message, saying they are proud of the position the company has taken. It was a success, internally and externally.

Her advice to other companies who have to deal with a similar political issue in the future: look at it from all angles; understand your audience; Think about the implications and be prepared. And, perhaps most importantly, take your time.

“Don’t let yourself be pressured into making an immediate decision,” says Laviolette. “You have to be quick and thoughtful, but check the facts and consult with everyone.”

This article will appear in print in the Fall 2022 issue of Canadian business Magazine. Buy the issue for $7.99 or better yet, subscribe to the quarterly print magazine for just $20.

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