Why Do Companies Go Woke?
“Woke” companies are those that are committed to socially progressive causes, with a particular focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion as these terms are understood through the lens of critical theory. There is little evidence of systematic support for woke ideas among executives and the population at large, and going woke does not appear to improve company performance. Why, then are so many firms embracing woke policies and attitudes? We suggest that going woke is an emergent strategy that is largely shaped by middle managers rather than owners, top managers, or employees. We build on theories from agency theory, institutional theory, and intra-organizational ecology to argue that wokeness arises from middle managers and support personnel using their delegated responsibility and specialist status to engage in woke internal advocacy, which may increase their influence and job security. Broader social and cultural trends tend to reinforce this process. We discuss implications for organizational behavior and performance including perceived corporate hypocrisy (“woke-washing”), the potential loss of creativity from restricting viewpoint diversity, and the need for companies to keep up with a constantly changing cultural landscape.