How to beat the anti-woke backlash

Leading coach and development consultant Jenny Garrett was keynote speaker at this week’s WM People Top Employer Awards and she spoke about how we can move towards a more equitable future.

Diversity teamwork with joined hands


The word woke has been weaponised and should instead be celebrated, the WM People Top Employer Awards heard this week.

Keynote speaker Jenny Garrett [pictured below right], leading coach and development consultant and author of Equality vs Equity, said the word originally denoted the awakening of African American people to structural racism and is about being aware of social justice.

So how do we challenge people who use ‘woke’ as an insult? For Garrett it is about understanding why diversity and inclusion is important to an organisation – so that everyone can thrive. It’s about what world we want to live in, she stated.

She added that injustice is everywhere and must be viewed with an intersectional lens. People have many different identities which can compound injustice.

She said it is important to work hard to create equitable workplaces through understanding that some people have more power than others and being aware of where different people’s strengths lie. Equality is not enough, she said, because the playing field is not equal. Giving everyone the same thing when some start with less due to structural injustice only perpetuates the status quo. “It’s about thinking what can be done differently to ensure everyone can succeed,” said Garrett.

That means taking time to understand each other and what can help to ensure everyone can shine. It is about sharing power and being outcomes driven.

Garrett outlined nine practical ways to conquer equity:

1. Expand your trusted 10. That means looking at the people you always go to, who you trust and rely on, who you invite into your home. Are they similar to you? Could you expand this group beyond your usual comfort zone and make that group more diverse and inclusive?
2. Mentor someone from a different background
3. Shatter the meritocracy myth which is built on inherent bias because it assumes that everyone starts from the same position
4. Help people who might face disadvantage get a foot in the door
5. Demand diverse leaders
6. Confront your inner sceptic and broaden your horizons by doing things differently or thinking about things in a different way
7. Speak up when you need to. The more people who speak up about injustice the bigger the difference it makes
8. Understand your unique strength and those of others
9. Know that empathy is vital and helps you understand other people’s experience.

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