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What Role Does Wokeness Have in the Workplace?

The Many Dimensions of "Wokeness"

I have  blogged before about the concept of “wokeness,” including its dimensions, and "woke capitalism." From time to time, I post a guest blog who has written an important piece on these and other topics. Today's blog is by Charlie Fletcher. You can contact her at: [email protected].

The contemporary workplace has undergone some significant changes in the last couple of decades. One of the most positive of these is an increased emphasis on the importance of strong diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) protocols. This has helped to improve employment conditions for workers and ensures businesses benefit from a more diverse workforce.

Alongside DEI programs, some businesses are adopting “wokeness” into the company culture. There’s a lot of debate around this subject. Some consider it a positive and essential component of a progressive employment landscape. Others view it as a negative and restrictive force.

Let’s take a closer look at the role of wokeness in the workplace. What does it mean, what challenges does it face, and how can it be positively implemented?

What is Wokeness?

The term “woke” has its roots in Black American communities and is used to describe an essential and active awareness of systemic social injustices. It has since been more widely adopted by the population, both by those in favor of its ideals and those disparaging them. It’s also been connected to “cancel culture”, in which actions are taken to shut down those exhibiting discriminatory behavior and attitudes.

In relation to the workplace, wokeness is a commitment to ensure companies adopt progressive protocols. This means the organizational culture is designed so that all employees and stakeholders receive equally respectful and considerate treatment.

One of the hallmarks of wokeness in the workplace is a commitment to resolving systemic disparities. For instance, women tend to experience significantly more career hurdles than their male counterparts. This can take the form of pay inequality, unconscious bias, and difficulty in being taken seriously as professionals. Wokeness in the workplace is a tool that prioritizes educating leaders and colleagues about such matters, addressing the contributing issues, and establishing protocols that prevent them in the future.

In many ways, wokeness at work also exemplifies an openness to cultural differences. Incorporating it into a business means leaders and colleagues recognize that theirs are not the only perspectives that are valuable, relevant, or valid. This can create a space in which workforces are active in empowering one another to thrive.

The Roots of Potential Resistance

Wokeness is a positive way to promote fairness and inclusivity. Unfortunately, its presence in the workplace continues to face some resistance. Indeed, the term “woke'' is frequently considered politically divisive, with some treating it pejoratively. It’s important to understand the roots of these objections so they can be addressed accordingly.

Some people believe that woke protocols limit free speech by placing restrictions on expressing opinions. Indeed, the prevalence of “cancel culture” may make some employees feel as though their viewpoints may be ridiculed or treated with prejudice. This can leave them feeling as though a woke workplace is a hostile environment in which they feel vulnerable. However, it’s important to clarify that, when implemented well, a woke workplace sets expectations for all colleagues to interact in ways that don’t result in bias, abuse, and microaggressions for anyone.

Workers might also feel threatened by wokeness related to equality and inclusivity. There are some white men, who feel that wokeness means they won’t have the same opportunities for career progression they may have had in previous decades. After all, the effect of breaking down the unfair privileges obviously impacts those who have primarily benefited from them.

In these instances, there needs to be greater emphasis on communicating the fact that businesses aren’t demonstrating an unfair bias toward those of traditionally marginalized demographics. Rather, wokeness aims for all workers to be treated fairly, which benefits everyone in the organization.

Positive Application of Wokeness Wokeness

Some of the actions companies should take to incorporate wokeness positively and meaningfully into the company include:

Cross-cultural mentorship

Mentorship programs are effective ways to provide career guidance and help employees grow. It can also be mutually beneficial to mentors and mentees from different generations or cultures. Senior professionals can gain insights from workers of traditionally marginalized backgrounds about how behaviors and attitudes impact their experiences. There are also opportunities for colleagues across age, gender, racial, and socioeconomic divides to develop a greater shared understanding of each other and build positive relationships.

Mitigate “woke washing”

Authenticity is key to effective DEI protocols. It is vital that company leaders ensure that there is a genuine commitment to making and maintaining improvements at all levels of the business. The presence of “woke washing” activities — marketing the company as progressive while acting contrary — can be damaging both to workers and the company’s reputation.

Informed protocols

Part of the problem of systemic bias and inequality in the workplace is that privilege can be invisible to the privileged. It’s important for woke actions to be informed and spearheaded by those of marginalized backgrounds. Companies should create groups of diverse team members from all levels of the company to design, establish, and monitor policies or programs dedicated to addressing inequality. Businesses must also ensure there are regular employee surveys to monitor the efficacy of inclusive actions.

Inclusive hiring and progression

It’s difficult to have a truly progressive business if the workforce is monocultural. DEI programs should include protocols that enable companies to attract and hire a wider range of workers. Flexible working practices may open the company to more disabled workers and those with young families. Avoiding limiting roles to those with traditional degrees can talented workers from differing socioeconomic backgrounds. Diverse leaders can be instrumental in tackling systemic bias in a business in the long term, too.


In the best-case scenarios, woke workplaces exemplify a positive approach to inclusivity and address systemic injustices. It’s important, though, to understand the perspectives of those that may oppose wokeness and clarify the true intentions and benefits of a progressive workplace. By creating a strong framework of solid DEI-related practices, there are opportunities for woke ideals to sustainably improve company culture for everyone involved.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, PhD on April 20. Find out more about his professional activities on his website  ( Follow him on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: Check out professional recommendations on LinkedIn: