Florida’s ‘Stop WOKE Act’ aims to restrict how businesses and schools address race, gender, and national origin.
DEI work is beneficial to creating an atmosphere that respects employee differences, addresses biases and prejudices, and helps give a voice to marginalized populations. Training that includes both past and current stories of racial bias and oppression cannot be ignored simply because some people feel guilty, accountable, or uncomfortable. Open to All’s recently launched Mitigate Racial Bias in Retail Charter has an employee training component that honestly addresses the racial bias experienced by shoppers. As of July 1st, in the state of Florida, training such as this will be in jeopardy.
A new Florida law commonly referred to as the “Stop WOKE Act” aims to restrict how businesses and schools address race, gender, and national origin. For companies that have DEI initiatives and require employees to complete training that addresses the legacy of oppression in the United States, the road ahead becomes more difficult to navigate.
Recently, Equality Florida’s CEO Nadine Smith and Public Policy Director Jon Harris Maurer led a rapid-response briefing for Open to All corporate partners about the new law, titled HB 7, and the effect it could have on providing education and awareness related to these topics.
The law, which amends the Florida Civil Rights Act, asserts that talking honestly about the history and legacy of race and racism is inherently wrong. It rewrites Florida law in a pernicious way to say that it’s a form of discrimination to make anyone feel shame, guilt, or discomfort over past or present racism or inequity.
Efforts to roll back advancements that impact marginalized groups are nothing new in the state of Florida. In the 1950s and 60s, the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, also known as the Johns Committee, targeted civil rights leaders and LGBTQ people in public education for subversive activities. This effort destroyed the lives and careers of hundreds of Floridians.
Then in the 1970s, Christian crusader Anita Bryant started her anti-LGBTQ Save our Children campaign in Florida to ban marriage equality and adoption. That effort spread across the country before it was stopped. The list goes on and on.
Smith emphasized that conservative think tanks are behind the efforts to push legislation that fans the flames of culture wars. And this law casts such a broad net, there is concern that it could scare people away from important concepts out of fear of lawsuits and fees. She encourages businesses that have invested in DEI programs to continue the work and move forward. These DEI efforts are fundamental to recruiting the best and brightest talent. It’s important that business leaders keep their promises, continue to stand up for their values, and ensure they are protecting the interests of all employees.
The new law was designed to instill fear and cause confusion. It means that companies already required to provide a workplace free of harassment and discrimination may now have scenarios where employees allege that DEI discussions make them uncomfortable.
Until we know more about the impact of HB 7, navigating the work will become a bit more difficult, but we must continue our efforts toward equity and justice in Florida and across the nation.