Malia Lazu

There is nothing conservative about “anti-woke” campaigns, yet looking at conservative leaders you can’t tell. The party that once said it wanted the government to be so small it could be drowned in a bathtub now wants it to be big enough to be everywhere – in libraries, business strategy and uteruses. Banning a woman’s right to choose or denying honest education is not future-facing, and it’s not good for business.  

The data clearly demonstrate how and why diverse teams are more profitable and able to grow a business, such as entering new markets more successfully. Therefore, laws that prevent women and other marginalized groups from being their whole selves when they come to work will affect the bottom line.  

The anti-woke pity party is a paper tiger, meaning it does not reflect a majority of consumers, employees and voters, as the most recent state elections in the Midwest have shown us. But it cannot be ignored because that could lead to a crack in the foundational beliefs that diversity and inclusion are good for business. 

What Is Anti-Wokeness? 

Anti-wokeness, as the name suggests, can only be defined in the context of being the opposite of “woke.” So, what is woke? According to Merriam Webster, it means being aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues, especially issues of racial and social justice. 

So, if woke reminds the marginalized to be vigilant about the dangers they face, then it follows that anti-wokeness is the desire to not be aware of violent oppression – past, present and no doubt future. Among Black people and other communities, being anti-woke is personally dangerous and the ultimate gaslighting that makes us doubt our own eyes, ears and intelligence.  

The Guardian may have put it best: “Anti-woke is a way to rebrand bigotry.” And it is being found in many hundreds of bills being introduced across the country. Think: “don’t say gay” or “don’t teach Rosa Parks”  

What Are the Facts? 

Anti-woke is anti-business. Disney CEO Bob Iger has brought this point home, calling Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign in this regard both anti-business and anti-Florida. Companies need to take heed, especially when it comes to their own efforts to attract talent and customers. Here is what we know: 

  • Nearly 9 out of 10, or 86 percent, of Millennials (those between the ages of 22 and 37) would consider taking a pay cut to work at a company whose mission and values align with their own. 
  • In a global study, consumers were 4 to 6 times more likely to buy from companies that align with their values.  

 So what are people’s values?  

Keep in mind that anti-wokeness campaigns will encourage the continued direct action of young people (including your employees) and propel movements like gun reform. As we saw with abortion rights, employees are going to want to know that their employers will protect their human rights and create a safe space to be themselves at work and be productive employees. 

The Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society are leading the way to raise money to make cultural wars and the fight on woke a key part of the 2024 election. How can leaders leverage their power, or maybe slow down their donations to politicians that will make it harder for you to lead in a 21st century economy?  

What Should a Company Do? 

A company’s long-term viability and its legacy are two important goals for future-proofing. Stoking a culture war in response to an expanding civil rights movement is not good for business. As Disney’s Iger has demonstrated, fighting city hall means having good contract lawyers, and it is less harmful than supporting those who would claw back rights so hard-fought-for by Americans.  

Knowing this, the best thing your company can do is to push back on the anti-woke movement, recognizing it as both illegitimate and anti-business. Why allow government to tell you how to run your business, or what customers and employees you can welcome?  

You don’t have to do it alone. Engage in honest conversations about the ramification of anti-wokeness on your ability and your state’s ability to attract talent. Talk to your employee resource groups to see how you can support employee mental health as they become political fodder during the upcoming presidential election. And finally, look at your campaign contributions that, in the past, have brought about reductions in tax and regulation. Now, those contributions can fund more important things – nothing less than slowing the destruction of American democracy.  

 Malia Lazu is a lecturer in the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, CEO of The Lazu Group and former Eastern Massachusetts regional president and chief experience and culture officer at Berkshire Bank.   

Why ‘Anti-Woke’ Is Bad for Business

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min