In light of the growing conversations around “woke” culture, it’s important for organizations to consider how these discussions are impacting the workplace. First, we must acknowledge that some topics of conversation can cause discomfort and even be discriminatory. The #MeToo movement has brought many such examples to the forefront, and in this sense, the woke workplace seems to be a positive step forward.

However, in policing employee conversations, we could be entering an equally dangerous era of “woke-washing,” where the desire to encourage responsible behavior has the unintended effect of creating additional hostility, groupthink, fear, frustration or a lack of respect. As former U.S. president Barack Obama has pointed out, the world is “messy,” and it’s important to understand that “if all you’re doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far.”

Concentrating on “wokeness” can lead to a lack of awareness and understanding of others rather than a more inclusive world. Ironically, wokeness, which should be a real driver of diversity and inclusion, is becoming its enemy. There are increasing numbers of people who feel unable to talk about their religion, life experiences, beliefs or values for fear of upsetting someone.

Mental well-being training tells employees that it’s essential to talk, develop relationships and have more social interactions. But if we police workers’ conversations too closely, they will feel unable to express themselves and their concerns, ideas or opinions. Withdrawing is a tactic we use to protect ourselves, but it’s damaging for both mental well-being and workplace inclusion initiatives.

The Danger of Groupthink

At its worst, woke culture contains an aspect of bullying and a message of “I am right, and if you don’t agree with me, you are wrong and less worthy” — a classic example of groupthink, defined as “the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group, resulting typically in unchallenged, poor-quality decision-making.”

Is that really what we want from our workplaces?

There is no clear answer to the question of how much woke culture should dictate workplace culture. It is, however, an issue that needs attention. Leaders should consider a few key questions:

  • What dangers does a culture of “wokeness” pose to your organization’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) goals and targets?
  • Are some dominant voices in your business creating a groupthink culture? Who are they, and how will your organization address this trend?
  • Will your organization be as tough on “woke” bullying as it is on other kinds of bullying?
  • Is there a danger that some groups in your workplace are demanding that their needs supersede others’ needs? How will your organization deal with this issue?
  • Are a vocal majority (or minority) causing your corporate values to shift? If so, are they doing so in a positive or a negative way? Is a problem emerging that your organization needs to address?

The middle ground may be to use training and D&I initiatives to create environments where people learn not only about other points of view but also about themselves. These training programs could encompass psychometric assessments, emotional intelligence (EQ) content and an exploration of neuroscience.

By understanding ourselves better, we may find ourselves better equipped to work with people who don’t share our views. Then, rather than turning to groupthink, we will open our eyes to a wiser, more inclusive world with the right degree of woke.

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