Tech employees should be pushing their CEOs to engage with Trump more, not less

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is under fire from her employees over her role as an advisor to President Trump. More than 2,000 IBM employees have signed a petition about it.

Rometty this week broke her silence on the matter.

In an email to the troops published in full by Fortune’s Madeline Farber, Rometty tried to walk a fine line. She implied support to employees who are concerned about Trump’s policies toward immigrants and about his travel ban. At the same time, she did not actually denounce any actions taken by Trump.

In between the overtly diplomatic tone, she said one thing that all tech employees should take note of and support (emphasis ours).

“Some have suggested that we should not engage with the U.S. administration. I disagree. Our experience has taught us that engagement — reaching out, listening and having authentic dialogue — is the best path to good outcomes.”

This echoes what Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX said about his role as a Trump adviser, when he tweeted:

“Activists should be pushing for more moderates to advise President, not fewer. How could having only extremists advise him possibly be good?”

Ginny RomettyChesnot/Getty ImagesIBM CEO Ginni Rometty

Like it or not, Trump is the president for the next four years, unless the Republican-led Congress decides there’s a case for impeachment and succeeds, or the 2018 election brings in a Democrat-led Congress that finds cause for impeachment … or if Trump leaves office for reasons of his own.

In Trump’s case, with no experience in government and a temperament marked by “the inability to tolerate views different from his own,” according to mental health experts, the influence of the people around him is enormous.

And the best way for those with moderate or progressive views to whisper in the president’s ear is by using the type of messengers Trump respects: business leaders.

Step up and engage

That’s not to say that that tech companies shouldn’t challenge Trump’s policies, in court if they have to — just like tech companies have done with all administrations. (Microsoft, for instance, sued the government in mid-2016 when Obama was still in office over privacy concerns regarding requests for data).

And tech companies most definitely should not help Trump achieve some of the more dangerous ideas he has espoused. Any efforts to target or discriminate against people by religion or ethnicity must be vigorously opposed by the tech industry.

But consider this: what kinds of decisions might the President make if more Valley employees were imploring their moderate or progressive leaders to step up and politely engage: talk to Trump, reason with him, keep at it, repeating the tech industry’s points of view and values over and over again, rather than shunning Trump?

Would Trump begin to believe that he should spend his time on true and fair immigration reform? Using health tech to reduce health care costs? Supporting green energy that creates jobs?

Asking your CEO to go be heard in Washington could well prove to be a pointless waste of time. But then again, can it hurt to try?

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

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