Woke Consciousness! The New Pandemic

William J. Wiggins Culture, Diversity, Employment Branding and Culture, Free Speech, George Floyd

In this time of intense protest of extreme social injustice, there is another pandemic that is impacting your organization. It’s called “Woke Consciousness.” Your organization may be emerging from a deep slumber suddenly to realize that there is very little diversity in your executive and manager-level positions or anywhere else for that matter (if you’re Facebook) or that the only thing wrong with your position on Social Injustice is that you don’t have one. Steady yourself for a new kind or organizing around uncomfortable social issues that can no longer be kept out of the workplace.

While we are watching America transform into a totalitarian society -something that looks more like the fictional Republic of Gilead (from Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale) rather than the land of the free and home of the brave, the women of Google have united in protest of the mismanagement of sexual misconduct complaints. Amazon employees used their shares to the get the attention of the board over their concern about the lack of action on climate change, and the potential use of the company’s facial recognition software to (hopefully unintentionally) marginalize people of color. Nike is also on a noble and seemingly never ending quest to see racial equality come to fruition.

How your organization responds to this new movement depends on the ability of your leadership to see the company through the lens of employees at all levels, and take accountability for the culture you have fostered. While an organization may be rightfully committed to the inclusion of all things LBGTQ, and pay equity for women, there may be very little evidence that “Black Lives Matter“ to anyone at the top or even bottom of the leadership food chain (tip: should you choose to commit to a message as your response to a worldwide call to action, please resist using the preamble “All Lives Matter”). Surprisingly enough, that is not an obvious assumption for everyone.

So what’s different about this movement?

Millennial and Generation Z employees are on the rise and more concerned about the employer brand they represent vs. their own personal interest. They are concerned about the footprint and social values of the organization they work for and they have an expectation that the organization to which they have committed make meaningful contributions to society, the people and the communities they serve, not just draw profits.

This is completely opposite of the singular focus on capitalism that we have been force-fed since white veterans triumphantly returned on a float from World War II with GI Bill in hand ready to take their positions as titans of industry, while black and brown men returned to redlined housing prospects and Jim Crow. Over time, leadership styles have trended towards collaboration and transparency vs. autocratic and omnipotent. All that being said, People have had enough and change is overdue.

Mitigating the unrest

During this torrid political and social environment, strive to maintain the engagement and enthusiasm that builds a stronger organization by considering these tips:

  • Communicate and have open discussions about the organization’s position on social issues. Share the “why,” and the potential business and employee impact. Be sure to create a safe space for employees to process and provide feedback as some may have deep emotional connections to these issues.
  • Don’t avoid the discussion, transparency is a primary factor is fostering trust and building a strong culture. To act otherwise leaves open the possibility for anger and resentment.
  • Let employees know they’ve been heard and that you are carefully considering options in response to their enthusiasm or concern. At the same time, be careful not to convey unrealistic expectations and be sure to maintain a healthy balance between your commitment to social justice, equality and the needs of your business.
  • Be mindful about your message and determine where your greatest opportunities are; be clear about what you intend to do about them, and be laser focused in your approach to closing social gaps.
  • Seek employee feedback on social issues via representative groups. Affinity groups are good for identifying areas of social passion among their colleagues and work with leadership to harness positive energy and address issues before they take on a life of their own.
  • Make commitments and dedicate resources to change.  While sharing and promoting dialogue is important, there must be an organizational commitment to identifying and meeting goals and objectives (i.e. if it is determined that your organization could do more to diversify it’s leadership, have a plan with metrics and dedicate the resources necessary to impact change and meet your objectives).

We are living in a time where racism, anti-Semitism, gender bias, cultural polarization and even modern-day lynchings are being woven even deeper into the fabric of our daily experience. Respect and acknowledge that not all employees arrive to work via the same figurative path; and in doing so; honor everyone’s experience. Your organization will be better for it.