Are you "woke" enough? | Moorepay
March 27, 2024

Are you “woke” enough?

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The word “woke” is one that divides the room; to some it’s a step in the right direction for equality, for others it’s a “war on truth”.

It’s a word that’s caused much controversy in recent years, within the media, political spaces, the court of public opinion, and in the workplace. You’ve probably heard it thrown around a fair bit, particularly by politicians, both with positive and negative connotations.

But what does it mean? Is it a necessary and vital movement that will lead us towards a better future, or another fad that will soon fade into obscurity?

Let’s get into it.

So, what is woke? 

Well, it depends on who you ask – but opinions aside, it’s a term which has developed and grown over the years. Originally, woke was a term used by the black community in the US to acknowledge the reference to structural racism. However, since then it’s been used more commonly to describe the belief that any and all marginalised or repressed groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community or women in the workforce, should be represented and accepted equally in society.

It’s also, unfortunately, been turned on its head by naysayers and used as a political buzzword by people who believe that the “woke agenda” is at best a fleeting trend and at worst a “war on truth”.

Should we be woke?

Most people would agree that “being woke” is morally and economically beneficially for everyone. Some, however, not so much.

You might have heard the phrase “go woke, go broke”, believed to be originally coined by American author John Ringo, which implies that businesses who adopt the “woke agenda” are likely to run themselves into the ground for turning their back on a significant proportion of their audience. This same sentiment is shared by business tycoons, such as Alan Sugar, who has a reputation for being vocal on his anti-woke ideology, with hot-takes such as blaming women for the gender pay gap and branding home workers as “lazy layabouts“. But does this have any merit?

Studies show that companies with a more diverse and progressive workforce, especially at leadership level, have superior financial returns to those that don’t. This is cited as being a result of a mixture of cultures, beliefs and backgrounds being able to push innovation further than ever before.

We needn’t have to look at statistics to come to this conclusion, though. In fact, we needn’t look further than the top 50 inclusive employers list of 2023, most of whom are recognisable brands that are economically thriving – and they owe their success in part to their emphasis on EDI.

These facts show that having equity, diversity and inclusion top on the agenda is more than beneficial to businesses on a financial basis. But it’s also important to acknowledge that nurturing an inclusive working environment – dare we say, being “woke” – is better for employees as well, leading to better wellbeing as well as professional relationships. At all times, HR professionals and employers need to remember that people are the heart of your organisation, and supporting them is ultimately your ethical responsibility.

Is being woke enough?

Acknowledging discrimination in any form is at least a starting point, but where do you go from there? That’s where typically an organisation would turn to their HR Department to request them, to develop and create an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Policy, but is that enough?

The resounding response from the public is, no! In a recent Financial Times article, it was stated that in the UK, there’s been a slight downturn in organisational budgets used to develop Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion practices (EDI). This would include policy development, management and employee training and recruitment and promotion objectives.

Plus, with a rise in tribunal and appeal cases, employers are – rightfully so – increasingly concerned they’ll end up on the wrong end of a DEI-related employment case where their bottom line and their reputation are at risk. For example, recently, a high street bank had to pay a manager who was wrongfully dismissed after using a racial motivated term during an EDI training session, was compensated £800,000.

Should you go woke for profit?

A word of warning: virtue signalling can backfire. And oh, how it has backfired. Back in 2017, Pepsi released a now infamous advertisement campaign, in which we saw influencer Kendall Jenner attempt to address racism by uniting Black Lives Matter protesters and law enforcement… with a can of Pepsi. It’s safe to say the add received huge backlash and public scrutiny for its insensitivity to such a weighty matter, and was inevitably pulled from air, resulting in a significant financial loss for Pepsi.

This is a prime example of how superficial gestures without meaningful action can undermine the cause the organisation claims to support, and ultimately ends up doing more harm than good. Therefore, it’s crucial for companies to authentically embrace and embody the values of EDI. Through fostering a culture of genuine commitment and belief in equality, organisations can not only avoid the pitfalls of virtue signalling, but also contribute to societal progress.

Where do we go from here?

It’s a learning curve for all organisations. As more companies face cases of discrimination, they also have more access to HR and management support with the creation of EDI policies

and practices than ever before. As an employer, you need to leverage the tools available to you to understand the needs of all your employees, and how bias and discrimination may affect them in and outside the workplace. It’s your responsibility to use these resources to create a more inclusive workplace where inequality and discrimination isn’t tolerated.

For example, in a recent interview Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD, explained that although HR Departments are now very effective at cracking down on racism and harassment, the function is still learning how to do EDI more effectively.

Training is also key, as organisations need to take responsibility for their workforce. People Management data states that at least half of HR functions would consider themselves to be “somewhat woke”. Where some might also suggest, that having a more culturally diverse workforce representing the communities where they operate might be the key to their success.

Equity, diversity, and inclusion

To discuss your organisations specific needs for EDI polices, training and practices that are bespoke to your requirements, speak to the policy team on 0345 073 0240. Alternatively, you can check out some more of our online resources:

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Stephen Johnson
About the author

Stephen Johnson

Stephen has over 25 years experience in private sector HR and management roles, working as a Manager for over 10 years and eventually moving into the financial services industry. In his current role as an HR Policy Review Consultant he develops, reviews and maintains our clients’ employment documentation. With extensive knowledge of management initiatives and HR disciplines Stephen is commercially focused and supports clients in delivering their business objectives whilst minimising the risk of litigation.

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