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  • Do programs designed to foster inclusion make things better or worse?
  • Are employees in your organization treated equitably?


I first heard the term “woke” in the social justice context in 2015. It was used to shine a light on untold or modified stories about American history, Being “woke” describes those who were aware of how colonization, oppression, and discrimination affected their lives legally, socially, and economically. The term is relatively new, but efforts to promote equity and equal opportunity for all have been in play since the founding of the republic. A lot of progress toward these ends was made in the 1960s, but similar to the 1860s there was a backlash. After Barack Obama became president some overly optimistic people declared our society post-racial. But his presidency created a backlash that resulted in the rollback of some of the voting rights gained in the 1960s.

Now that more people are researching history and becoming “woke” that is, more aware of our nation’s complete history, there is a backlash. To reverse the movement toward equal rights and justice for all, a large segment of the population uses “strawman” tactics to distort or mislabel social justice efforts to discredit those who seek inclusion, equity, and equal opportunities. Many of those people are in the workplace.

A few years ago, I scheduled a diversity and inclusion workshop for my staff. One of them announced that she was not going to attend because it was “A waste of taxpayers’ money.” She had never made such a declaration for any other workshop. She and I consulted Human Resources. It determined that as long as what I asked her to do was legal and within normal working hours, the employee would have to attend. She attended the workshop but was initially disruptive. However, the facilitator and her peers were instrumental in helping keep the workshop on track. It was also helpful that the institution valued diversity and inclusion and stated this in its mission statement.

Some oppose movements toward inclusion, equity, and equal opportunity in the workplace because they do not understand how structural racism affected others in the past, the present, and will in the future. A lot of people want to avoid dealing with these issues because it makes them feel uncomfortable or they might not want to acknowledge the advantages they currently enjoy. In their eyes, equality is a step-down. However, the organization could suffer because talent comes in all colors, genders, shapes, and sizes.

To moderate “woke” backlash, I concur with Rosalind M. Chow associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University who stated, “Leaders need to treat employees’ resistance to institutional changes designed to address systemic racism with the same determination with which they treat any opposition to a strategic organizational change.” It starts at the top.

How are you addressing equity and inclusion in your workplace? To learn more about my coaching practice visit: