Wayfair’s CEO said they look for ‘non-political’ employees. What does that mean?

"He was in no way referring to politics at large."

Boston, MA., 073118, Employees at work at Wayfair.
Employees at work at Wayfair's office in Boston. –Suzanne Kreiter / The Boston Globe, File

Wayfair says it looks for employees who are “non-political” — but not in the political sense.

Less than three months after the company’s employees staged a massive walkout in Boston over the online furniture retailer’s involvement with migrant detention center operators, Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah named being “non-political” as a trait they seek in potential employees, a remark that the company says is being “misinterpreted.”

As the Boston Business Journal reported Thursday, Shah was asked during a panel Thursday at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel about the characteristics the Boston-based company, which is one of the largest employers in Massachusetts, looks for in new employees. He singled out two general sets of criteria: Talent and “cultural fit.”

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“They’re incredibly talented. They’re intelligent, quantitative. Just that we think they have the raw material to really succeed and we feel confident,” Shah said, according to the Business Journal.

“The second thing we look for — equally important — is the cultural fit,” he continued. “So we’re bringing in non-political, you know, highly collaborative, just very driven and ambitious. There’s a whole lot of cultural values that we think are important while we succeeded.”

The Pittsfield native added that when employees “don’t work out, you can usually track them back to one of those core criteria.”

Shah reportedly declined to elaborate on what he meant when approached by a reporter for the Business Journal after the event.

However, Wayfair spokeswoman Susan Frechette told Boston.com in a statement that the use of the word “non-political” was meant to convey that the company seeks “employees who are collaborative and focused on positive interaction in the workplace.” Frechette said the Business Journal article “misinterpreted and inaccurately positioned” Shah’s remark.

“He was in no way referring to politics at large,” Frechette said. “Our culture, of course, welcomes and respects all viewpoints and perspectives and we are proud to have employees that engage in the greater community.”

Niraj Shah, CEO of Wayfair, attends an annual Sun Valley Conference, July 10, 2019 in Sun Valley, Idaho. —Drew Angerer / Getty Images
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Shah himself has previously even affirmed his belief that Wayfair employees have a right to engage in politics.

In June, when hundreds of workers protested the company’s fulfillment of an order for bedroom furniture by a government contractor that manages migrant detention centers along the southern border, the CEO and fellow Wayfair cofounder Steve Conine wrote that they respected their employees “passion” on the issue.

“We believe strongly in the political process in our country and the power of individuals engaging in it to create change,” Shah and Conine wrote in a letter to Wayfair employees at the time. “As we enter the next election cycle, the ability for everyone to contribute their views and be politically engaged is even more important.”

While the company made a $100,00 donation to the American Red Cross, its leaders maintained that it was their “business” to fulfill all orders from those acting within the law.

Last month, Shah reportedly told investors that Wayfair’s leadership was continuing a conversation with the employees who organized the June protest, which placed the company “in the midst of a broader political debate,” and was working to “internally navigate” the issue.

“We have an ongoing dialogue with our employees and are proud to have a terrific team that is passionate and engaged both at work and in their broader communities,” he said.

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