How Do You Handle Working For A Client Whose Politics Are Not Aligned With Your Own? Part 2

This is a follow-up on a discussion with students from Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy that was addressed in last week’s post. When evaluating firms, you will need to consider whether that firm reflects your values and whether that firm is willing to turn down potentially lucrative contracts and revenue to demonstrate those values. With data often publicly available, you can research firms and better understand what clients are in their portfolio.

Trading Revenue for Values?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has received public outcry across the political spectrum for its enforcement of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration that led to the separation of children from their parents. The agency has also received a lot of criticism for its management of detention centers across the country.

McKinsey & Company had a contract for “management consulting services” in ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations Division. According to a New York Times report, this contract was awarded during the Obama administration with most of the $20 million in consulting work completed during the Trump administration. Employees and McKinsey alumni raised concerns on the nature of this work prompting the contract to be modified and a managing partner to step forward and issue a statement that the firm “will not, under any circumstances, engage in any work, anywhere in the world, that advances or assists policies that are at odds with our values.” At least three other large consulting firms – Deloitte Consulting, Guidehouse (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers), and Booz Allen Hamilton have advised ICE according to public records. A spokesman for Booz Allen Hamilton shared that the nature of the work involved “information systems, data integration, and analytics,” and did not involve “the separation of children from adults.” According to Popular Information, Deloitte has won over $104 million in contracts with ICE since the start of the Trump administration and $177 million in contracts with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) since January, 2017. The public and many of these firm’s employees have called for greater scrutiny of the role that these companies have played in providing services to ICE and CBP.

As a prospective employee, learning about a firm’s client portfolio, governance processes, and project engagement approach can help you better understand where a company draws a line between revenue and values and whether you could end up providing services to a client that causes you to consider compromising your own values.

Position Yourself for an Industry

The goal of the interview is to build relationships, learn more about the company, and receive an offer. Once you receive an offer, you are in a better position to negotiate. The company has invested time in recruiting and selecting you, have laid their cards on the table and let you know that they want you to join the team. They do not know if you have another offer on the table, or if you feel the same about the company. If client placement was left ambiguous during your interview, you are in a better position to raise concerns with the client portfolio, project placement, and set parameters after you receive an offer.

For instance, if you have not already connected with a leader in a target industry, you can ask to speak or meet with practice industry leaders in a target industry BEFORE you make a decision. This will enable you to start building relationships, learn more about the nature of the work, and identify opportunities for project placement. You may also want to connect with practice leaders in industries where you have concerns so that you can better understand the nature of those portfolios and test your assumptions. Doing so allows you to see if the firm values your opinions and concerns and enables to build a network and relationships within an industry that you are passionate about.

Conclusion: Where Do You Draw the Line?

Ultimately, you need to capture information, test your assumptions, and determine where you personally draw the line. Even if you do not believe in how the agency is carrying out its mission, do you believe that government is entitled to professional services? Do you believe that this mission is going to be carried out regardless and that providing consulting services can save taxpayer dollars and provide safer conditions for those government employees on the front-lines? Do you believe that having a seat at the table and providing your perspective could raise valuable points that an organization may not be considering? Would you be willing to work for a controversial agency supporting a project in an area that is not controversial? Or, do you place a premium on values and are you unwilling to work for a company that provides ANY support to an agency that you feel is carrying out harmful policies. Conducting due diligence and establishing your own internal litmus test will help you prioritize the companies that you target.

Thank you to the students at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy for starting this discussion and developing their own litmus test.

Follow on Twitter: @evan_piekara

Evan Piekara

With over twelve years of experience consulting and working in the government and nonprofit sectors. Evan started his nonprofit career as a member of Teach For America (TFA), where he served as a teacher, volunteer, and in operational support and training roles for the organization. He has supported BDO Public Sector in the launch of their management consulting practice and has provided strategy and operations, human capital, and information technology support to government and nonprofit clients. At BDO Public Sector, Evan led efforts building internal practice recruiting processes including interview questions, cases, and candidate evaluation criteria and developed their Graduate Advisor internship program.