What is the “Stop WOKE Act”?

As of July 1, 2022, several laws took effect including the ‘Stop WOKE Act.’ What exactly is “woke”? What does it mean and why did Florida Governor DeSantis feel compelled to sign a bill into law to try to stop it? The law builds on the governor’s decision to ban Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the New York Times’ 1619 project in Florida schools while also targeting corporate “wokeness”.

The law, which has become known as the “Stop WOKE,” prohibits workplace training or school instruction that teaches that individuals can be consciously or unconsciously racist or sexist, that people are privileged or oppressed based on race, gender, or national origin, or that a person is personal responsibility morally and/or emotionally for actions committed in the past by members of the same race, gender, or national origin. The law says such trainings or lessons amount to discrimination.

“In Florida we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other. We also have a responsibility to ensure that parents have the means to vindicate their rights when it comes to enforcing state standards. Finally, we must protect Florida workers against the hostile work environment that is created when large corporations force their employees to endure CRT-inspired ‘training’ and indoctrination.”

The law has been criticized as ambiguous, which creates concern that employers may dilute the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) content in their training, no longer make trainings mandatory or stop offering DEI training altogether.

“By using contradictory, confusing, and ambiguous language, the regulation invites employees to bring lawsuits against any company mandating any kind of diversity training,” Zoe Chance, a professor at the Yale School of Management, said. “The question is, what range of discussions will be avoided for fear of lawsuits?”

Recently, after Bob Chapek, the CEO of Disney World criticized Gov. DeSantis over the “Parental Rights in Educationlaw, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, the governor lashed out against the company’s “wokeness” while accusing Disney of interfering with parents’ rights. The rollout of the Stop WOKE law also aligned with the timing of the Florida senate’s decision to repeal the bill which granted Disney World special tax treatment. These actions are being viewed by some critics and democratic leaders as a direct punishment for Disney’s decision to speak out against the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The Stop WOKE law not only affects DEI efforts in the workplace but educational institutions are also being regulated. There is concern that K-12, as well as public colleges and universities, will be impacted.

“This dangerous law is part of a nationwide trend to whitewash history and chill free speech in classrooms and workplaces,” Amy Turkel, interim executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement. “It will infringe on teachers’ and employers’ First Amendment rights and chill their ability to use concepts like systemic racism and gender discrimination to teach about and discuss important American history.”

The coming months will be telling in higher education as colleges and universities determine whether filing suits will be necessary to protect the established right to maintain freedom of speech in their curriculum. Some colleges and universities have also been passing resolutions that state that they reject any attempts made by outside entities to, “restrict or dictate university curriculum on any matter, including matters related to racial and social justice.”

Despite the passage of this law, there are things that corporations can do to continue their DEI efforts. Corporations have the power to create inclusive organizations by doing pay equity audits, assessing current hiring practices to identify areas of weakness, and host optional speaking engagements with DEI experts.