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‘Woke’ matters – Here’s what it really is and why it’s important

Articles Jun 21, 2023

This piece was originally published in WRAL TechWire.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – I am in the enviable position to talk to business leaders from across the globe. For the last year or so, when I hear a sentence begin: “Hey Don, let me ask you about…” I already know what is coming. Soon, in a hushed voice, they ask, “So, what’s with this ‘woke’ stuff?”

The rationale for the question is obvious – politicians are using the divisive “woke” label without really defining what “woke” is. Business leaders are searching for answers and are curious to learn from The Diversity Movement’s thought leadership on the topic.

Since they asked me, I almost always smile and answer with a set of questions of my own:

  • Do you have ramps for employees who use wheelchairs?
  • Does a neurodivergent employee have access to tools and resources to do their job efficiently?
  • Is your website accessible for low vision and blind customers?
  • Do you want a broad audience to spend money on your brand?

I always get the same answer: “Of course, these all make sense.”

My response: “Then you don’t have a problem with diversity, equity and inclusion, you have a problem with the way these topics have been explained to you.” The fact of the matter is that wrapping DEI initiatives in real-world business scenarios takes it out of the hands of the politicians and activist groups and sets it at the feet of business leaders who want to do right by their people and do right by the bottom line.

Political Rhetoric Masking Great Leadership

Rhetoric around “woke” is just that – political and media chatter created to divide people into competing camps. The idea is that if you can be convinced to hate someone who thinks differently, or be led to believe there’s no common ground, then as a voter you will retain fealty to one party.

It is crucial to delve deeper into the meaning of “woke,” shedding light on its importance in our journey toward a more inclusive and equitable society. This exercise enables us as business leaders and executives to address the real consequences of how the term has been bastardized by politicians and extreme activists.

You can’t ignore “woke” arguments in today’s us-versus-them landscape, but you can educate yourself about what it is and why – despite what you may think – it really matters.


Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2023 Southeast Award winner, is a globally respected business leader, CEO of The Diversity Movement, CDE, and author of Underestimated.