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Throughout the year, we’ve seen small but curious signs that corporate America is less interested in being woke than it was a few years ago.
In May, Meta — formerly Facebook — said that “discussing abortion openly at work has a heightened risk of creating a hostile work environment,” so it had taken “the position that we would not allow open discussion.” Progressive activists were surprised to see so many companies offering muted and generic statements about the Supreme Court’s recent abortion decision.
Earlier this summer, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos effectively told his employees that it was time to stop complaining about programming that offended them: “If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.” New Warner Brothers CEO David Zaslav is reportedly meeting with Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, indicating he’s not interested in complaints about her views on trans issues.
A woke philosophy inevitably requires a business to prioritize something ahead of turning a profit. It also often requires alienating some portion, perhaps a large portion, of its potential customer base. A company has to hire all of those special executives to coordinate “diversity and inclusion” and to make donations to all of the appropriate progressive groups and causes. A woke CEO needs a financial cushion to enact all of those changes.
And America’s business leaders see rougher times ahead:
The CEO of Google’s parent company told staff last month to work with “greater urgency, sharper focus, and more hunger than we’ve shown on sunnier days.” Meta Platforms Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in late July that the Facebook owner must operate with greater intensity “and I expect us to get more done with fewer resources”; an engineering leader at the company also recently told managers to identify and push out low performers.
Beyond tech, CEOs are warning of tougher times, while others are telling employees to reconsider spending on trips, business meals or even corporate swag such as T-shirts and coffee mugs.
The shift in messaging reflects increasing anxiety in the C-suite about where the economy is headed. A survey released in June by the Conference Board, a business research firm, found the majority of CEOs think a recession is coming or already here.
Despite predictions that woke corporate America was here to stay, woke and social-justice virtue-signaling may be turning into an unaffordable luxury for many companies. The woke customer base is just too small, and the non-woke or anti-woke customer base is just too large to ignore or antagonize. Woke employees who insist their company’s leadership take outspoken and controversial stances can be denied, and shown the door if they are sufficiently disruptive or unproductive. If explicitly progressive institutions find young woke employees to be a bunch of whiny, entitled, insufferable, grievance-obsessed troublemakers, how sympathetic should America’s businesses be? These employees were hired to do a job, not to transform the company into an instrument of political change.
Netflix and Warner Brothers want to attract the biggest audiences possible, and need to do so in order to stay in business. Every company wants its workers focused on their work, not endless infighting over whether the company is sufficiently devoted to some ideological agenda.
Much as it galls me to praise New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, his simple slogan and philosophy – “do your job” – is likely a key ingredient in the team’s lasting success. Everyone involved with the team has exceptional clarity about what their job is, and what they’re supposed to do in any given circumstance. Doing the job is the priority. Everything else is extraneous. If you’re a soda company, your job is to sell soda. If you’re a streaming service, your job is to attract and keep an audience, preferably a large and growing one. If you’re a social media company, your job is to attract and keep users. Changing American society or its laws is not part of the job.
“Get woke, go broke” was always an oversimplification; if it was that simple, no woke institution would be around anymore. But it is likely that enacting a woke philosophy at a company requires the kind of financial cushion and stability that only a thriving economy can provide. Ironically, runaway inflation and bad Biden economic policies are slowly strangling corporate America’s ability to indulge the woke agenda.
Reporting from National Review.