War for Talent vs. War on Woke

What are the election’s implications for companies as they seek to protect and enhance their reputations—and how do they fit within the pressures we’ve seen companies face over the past years?

Moving forward, businesses will have to deal with two opposing forces:

  • Young people will continue to pressure companies to weigh in on social, political and cultural issues. Young voters came out for Democrats, and abortion ranked high on their concerns. These Gen Z voters—together with millennials—are more likely than older generations to believe companies should take a stand. They are companies’ future talent and future customers.
  • The counter-reaction. Governor Ron DeSantis, one of the big winners from this cycle, squarely took on “woke corporations.” Conservatives will be looking at the coalition DeSantis assembled, as well as his very public fight against Disney.

So what does this mean for the landscape companies will operate in?

  • More theatrics. We may not see significant policy changes, but the theater of hearings will put pressure on companies. In the absence of actual legislative action, these sideshows also move to the main stage. Which in turn moves the center of conversation toward taking on “woke capitalism” – and generally more to the extreme.
  • Divided government. It’s possible we could see a situation where someone like Larry Fink from BlackRock is aggressively challenged by a Senate committee for not pushing harder on climate change—and the next day by a House committee for pursuing ESG.
  • Unexpected alliances. What unites Gen Z progressive and older blue-collar voters is a strong mistrust of large corporations. With labor seeing a lift in popularity among Gen Z, and part of the conservative movement questioning untrammeled free markets, expect unlikely alliances.
  • The unknowns. Corporations have spent recent years navigating sociopolitical flashpoints. In a volatile, uncertain environment, we should expect more of the same—especially as staying silent no longer means neutrality.

What we then see as the emerging battleground for business is the tension between the war for talent and the war on woke—the need to speak to the values and priorities of the next generation of talent while dealing with those who see ESG and DE&I as back door attempts to impose a liberal-left agenda.

In this context, our core guidance is to commit to be ready.

Gather information on your relevant facts, your people, your direct impact, your environment and your past.

Engage authentically. Prepare decisions. And activate across disciplines and outside help as needed.