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  • Writer's pictureAlfio Bonanno

The Paradox of 'Wokeness': Striking a Balance Between Progress and Polarization

Note: This article does not promote nor is against woke culture. The article is a critical reflection upon the excesses that may arise by uncriticaly embracing "woke" as an ideology in organisations.


In today's social landscape, discussions surrounding woke culture have become widespread in various aspects of society, including the workplace. While embracing woke culture aims to foster inclusivity and social awareness, it is important to critically analyse its potential implications when taken to the extreme. This article explores some of the issues that can arise when organisations uncritically embrace “woke” and it provides some thoughts on the areas in which the concepts of “woke” and “inclusive” depart.

The Significance of Inclusion:

Promoting inclusion and diversity in the workplace is crucial for cultivating a harmonious and progressive environment. It allows for a broader range of perspectives, experiences, and ideas, leading to enhanced creativity, innovation, and employee engagement. Embracing woke culture has rightly pushed organizations to address long-standing biases and systemic inequalities. However, it is equally important to acknowledge the potential pitfalls that can arise when the boundaries of woke culture are pushed too far. In fact, whilst inclusion has been defined in HR scholarship as a situation in which the organisation fosters employees to feel both a sense of uniqueness and a sense of belonging, some of the extremes of “going woke” act in a way that is diametrically opposite to the very definition of inclusion. EthosHR has identified the 5 key extremes of woke culture in the workplace:

Policing Language and Thought: Excessive monitoring and censoring of language in the workplace can impede open communication and hinder genuine discussions on sensitive topics, despite the importance of fostering respect and inclusivity. Encouraging a culture where employees feel hesitant to express their viewpoints can result in self-censorship and limit intellectual diversity, ultimately hindering growth and innovation.

Cancel Culture and Mob Mentality: An extreme manifestation of woke culture can be observed in the rise of cancel culture and mob mentality. When individuals fear public shaming or professional repercussions for expressing dissenting opinions, free and critical discussions become stifled. This can foster a culture of conformity, preventing employees from engaging in healthy debates and exploring diverse perspectives. To avoid the detrimental effects of cancel culture, organizations must foster an environment that encourages respectful dialogue and values diverse viewpoints.

Tokenism and Performative Actions: While inclusive initiatives are crucial, organizations must exercise caution to avoid tokenism or performative actions solely for the sake of appearance. Merely checking diversity boxes without meaningful action can undermine the authenticity of inclusion efforts. Employees may become sceptical of an organization's commitment to diversity, questioning whether these initiatives stem from genuine concern or are simply part of a public relations strategy. Authenticity and a focus on tangible change are essential in avoiding the pitfalls of tokenism.

Unbalanced Focus on Specific Issues: An excessive focus on specific social issues at the expense of others can result from an extreme woke culture. While addressing important concerns like racial inequality or gender disparity is a fantastic endeavour, neglecting other dimensions of diversity, such as age, disability, or socioeconomic status, can lead to an incomplete understanding of inclusivity. Organizations should strive for a holistic approach that recognizes the multifaceted nature of diversity and ensures equal attention is given to all marginalized groups.

Lack of Intellectual Diversity: In an overly woke workplace, there is a risk of suppressing intellectual diversity. When certain viewpoints are deemed unacceptable or outside the perceived woke narrative, it can create an echo chamber where only one perspective is valued. This hampers critical thinking, innovation, and exploration of alternative solutions to complex problems. Embracing woke culture should not come at the expense of stifling intellectual diversity and the potential for growth through differing viewpoints.

Potential Solutions and Strategies:

To strike a balance between woke culture and its potential pitfalls, organizations can implement several strategies. Encouraging open dialogue and creating safe spaces for discussions can foster an environment where all employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns. Providing training and education on diversity and inclusion can help employees navigate sensitive topics and promote understanding. Establishing clear guidelines and policies that promote respectful communication while avoiding excessive restrictions can also contribute to a balanced approach. For more information, please consult our article on Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace


Achieving a balanced approach between embracing woke culture and avoiding its potential pitfalls is crucial for organizations aiming to create inclusive and thriving workplaces. Whilst standing against social inequality and injustice is the right thing to do at ALL times, embracing trends as they emerge, in uncritical fashion can damage your organisation. Encouraging open dialogue, respecting diverse viewpoints, and fostering an environment where individuals can express their thoughts without fear of retribution or exclusion are key. By finding this balance, organizations can create a workplace that values inclusivity, intellectual diversity, and meaningful change, fostering an environment where everyone feels empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and experiences. At EthosHR we are well-equipped to support you in striking the right balance and achieve an environment of inclusion in which your workforce can thrive. Get in touch today to find out about how we can help.

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