Greenfield: The Year Woke Went Broke
As companies aggressively lay off workers and cut costs, a survey released last month revealed that company events and bonuses are cut first, followed by diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. DEI job listingsfell by a fifth last year and the woke collapse is accelerating.
That’s been the conclusion of other surveys and firms describing a corporate environment where DEI’s wokeness programs are the “first to go”. Only 5% of recruiters say that DEI is a priority. Corporate racism is collateral damage in HR cuts. 55% of HR departments surveyed were already cut or expected to have their budgets slashed. And DEI is the mask that HR wears. Layoffs in the tech industry disproportionately affected white women, not because of sexism, but because companies under pressure were shedding the most expendable roles: primarily HR. Some companies like Twilio announced that they would be firing workers based on race. Or, as CEO Jeff Lawson put it, layoffs “were carried out through an Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppression lens.” Mostly though companies were jettisoning dead weight regardless of race or level of wokeness. Facebook dumped its special training program for HR managers who focus on diversity and fired everyone in it. To add insult to injury, Facebook offered them much less severance pay than other workers. Amazon dumped a good deal of its DEI personnel as part of an HR purge. Layoffs tend to hit human resources where the invasive species of diversity consultants had built its nests. Corporate human resources departments had transformed private sector racism into a booming business, but it’s a business that rises and falls with social and economic trends. Diversity spending had been declining during the pandemic. Mainline companies struggling with a challenging economic environment had less resources to throw at diversity seminars. The race riots that burned cities and cost countless lives also helped make the agitators who had poured ideological gasoline on the fires of race very wealthy. Ibram X. Kendi, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robin DiAngelo and other professional racists ushered in an intellectual rebrand of diversity, which had become as stodgy as HR, into the exciting new era of anti-racism. While Black Lives Matter leaders and influencers like Kendi charged massive speaking fees, a legion of identity politics studies grads and diversity consultants began quietly cashing in. The nation’s workhouse businesses had limited resources, but the massive corporations, especially in the tech industry, were glutted with pandemic cash and eager to virtue signal. Big Tech monopolies, stuffed with the ill-gotten gains of the lockdown, invested heavily in DEI. So did most of the tech industry. Inflation has led to a rash of cost-cutting among those same tech companies as investors are no longer as casual about throwing more good money after bad. DEI is seeing the third highest fall in job offers after tech careers because its rise was heavily dependent on a tech industry boom. Now the parasite is suffering along with the host. DEI brought academic racism of the critical race theory variety into corporate boardrooms, but another way to look at it is as a way for HR professionals, many of them white women, to elevate their roles or spin off booming businesses. Manufacturing a racism crisis destroyed a lot of lives but, as is often the case, made a small group of people successful and wealthy. HR professionals are frantically struggling to survive the waves of layoffs by using DEI and black people as human shields. HR associations and organizations put out fake numbers insisting that most employees won’t take jobs or will even leave jobs at companies that don’t prioritize DEI. If HR people claimed that employees wouldn’t work at companies without bigger HR departments, the C-suite would laugh in their faces, but a fake racism crisis covers a multitude of sins. Embedding critical race theory into corporations was lubricated by lies and misleading statistics. Corporate leaders and investors were told that workers were desperate for DEI (and those who weren’t were fired), that diverse workforces adapt better to change and that diverse companies outperform less diverse ones. And that customers would only buy from companies that reflected their values. When all else failed, cancel culture was deployed against CEOs from within. The trouble with HR trying to hold the C-suite hostage with BLM is that pressure by investors to produce cuts is now scaring CEOs more than cancel culture. And a growing backlash by conservative leaders, especially by Gov. Ron DeSantis humbling Disney, has made them wary. That’s why there’s been a marked decline in CEO statements on the woke outrage of the day. While corporate investments in diversity have dropped, they’re still far above what they were before the Black Lives Matter movement, with Fortune 500 backing and millions in funding, torched American cities, murdered police officers and robbed small business owners. The diversity business has its ups and downs. Marxism is a luxury product and there’s less of a budget for virtue signaling now at the FAANG gang, the tech industry and a lot of big corps. Corporations embrace causes to refresh their brands, but DEI has become stale. There’s only so many times you can invite Ibram X. Kendi to intone about anti-racism at a mandatory C-suite Zoom seminar before everyone realizes that the leadership has no new ideas and no plan. In tough times, the multinationals that went big on wokeness are assuring investors that they’re cutting back. The new wave of incoming CEOs are middle aged white geeks with a penchant for numbers and responsible leadership. The ad campaigns are still woke and ESG investing is an economic disease that is destroying pension value and undermining our economy, but corporate racism is becoming as outdated an artifact of 2020 as workplace mask mandates. The Biden administration is aggressively pushing equity, but the companies shipwrecked by his economy have less time to meditate on their unconscious biases and promise “to do better”. Wokeness, like the Biden administration, has gone broke. And America has gone broke with it. DEI will be rebranded, reborn in the blood of more race riots and viral cancellations, but for now it’s withering as companies tighten belts and look for new shiny objects to distract investors. Like AI. What happens if you combine DEI and AI? DEI.AI offers “an AI-powered Diversity, Equity and Inclusion assistant” that you can ask to “help you better understand the landscape of DE&I”. No more “unpaid emotional labor” of explaining why all white people are racist. Now there’s an app to tell you exactly how racist you are. A DEI app costs a whole lot less than a DEI department. And DEI dogma is easily automated. There’s even a browser add-on that will scan your emails and “detect problematic language” like “grandfathered”. What could better embody diversity than replacing black people with software? DEI, once exciting, is now just another formula, a set of tired rules that overlap all the others embedded in corporate and government workplaces that everyone is learning to ignore. And, like any other formula, the work of yelling at white people can be outsourced to software.