Major corporations had 'woke' trainings exposed in 2021

Disney, Coca-Cola, American Express, Bank of America, Lowe's and Pfizer faced allegations of 'woke' training

Major corporations found themselves in hot water during 2021 as whistleblowers revealed what they claimed were employee training sessions steeped in critical race theory

Disney, Coca-Cola, American Express, Bank of America, Lowe's and Pfizer faced accusations that they trained employees on certain "woke" ideas, such as putting "marginalized" staff above "privileged" staff, learning to "decolonize" their minds" and combating aspects of an alleged "White supremacy culture," such as perfectionism, individualism and objectivity.

These ideas trace back to critical race theory (CRT) — a framework that involves deconstructing aspects of society to discover systemic racism beneath the surface. Current and former employees at American Express told Fox News that the change began after the police-involved killing of George Floyd in May 2020, but the "woke" trainings came to light in 2021.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
KO THE COCA-COLA CO. 62.62 +0.07 +0.11%
LOW LOWE'S COMPANIES INC. 226.86 +3.51 +1.57%
AXP AMERICAN EXPRESS CO. 228.27 +3.45 +1.53%
PFE PFIZER INC. 26.98 -0.55 -2.00%


In February, a whistleblower at Coca-Cola claimed that the company forced employees to take a seminar teaching them to "be less white." The whistleblower posted photos of a seminar giving tips to "be less white," including "be less arrogant, be less certain, be less defensive, be more humble, listen, believe, break with apathy" and "break with white solidarity." The materials claimed that White people in the United States and other western nations are "socialized to feel that they are inherently superior because they are white."

Coca-Cola bottles are seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on October 8, 2020.. (Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Yet Coca-Cola told Fox Business that the slides "are not part of the company's learning curriculum." 

Coca-Cola President Alfredo Rivera apologized for the situation in March. 

"Recently, we learned that content accessible through our company training platform did not align with" being "respectful for all," he said.

While this material was not part of the training curriculum, Rivera said, "We apologize to those who were offended by this content. We would never encourage anyone to be any less of themselves."

In March, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Chris Rufo revealed whistleblower documents from the Walt Disney Company's diversity and inclusion program "Reimagine Tomorrow." The program includes multiple training modules on "antiracism." 

The modules tell employees that they must "take ownership of educating [themselves] about structural anti-Black racism." The modules claim that the U.S. has a "long history of systemic racism and transphobia" and that White employees must "work through feelings of guilt, shame, and defensiveness to understand what is beneath them and what needs to be healed." Another module encourages employees to reject "equality" focusing on "equal treatment and access to opportunities," and instead strive for "equity," focusing on "the equality of outcome."


Disney did not deny the training but insisted that whistleblowers took it out of context.

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DIS THE WALT DISNEY CO. 101.52 +1.55 +1.55%

"These internal documents are being deliberately distorted as reflective of company policy, when in fact their purpose was to allow diversity of thought and discussion on the incredibly complex and challenging issues of race and discrimination that we as a society and companies nationwide are facing," the company said in a statement.

FILE - A screen shows the logo and a ticker symbol for The Walt Disney Company on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, Dec. 14, 2017. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid) (Reuters Photos)

In August, Rufo published internal documents showing that American Express subjected its employees to a series of critical race theory training sessions that encouraged staff to rank themselves on a hierarchy of "privilege" and apply that hierarchy in the workplace, with the more "privileged" employees deferring to staff from "marginalized groups."

In the trainings, the outside consulting firm Paradigm urged Amex employees to construct their own intersectional identities, mapping their "race, sexual orientation, body type, religion, disability status, age, gender identity [and] citizenship" on an official company worksheet. Employees could then determine whether they have "privilege" or are members of a "marginalized group." Whites, males, heterosexual people, Christians, able-bodied people and citizens would presumably count as "privileged."

The training sessions also warned White employees to avoid certain phrases, such as "I don't see color," "We are all human beings" and "Everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough," as "microaggressions." 

In a high-profile "anti-racism" event, Amex executives invited Khalil Muhammad, a great-grandson of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad, to speak on "race in corporate America." He argued that capitalism was founded on racism and that "racist logics and forms of domination" have shaped Western society since at least the Industrial Revolution. He even argued that the credit card company should reduce standards for Black customers and sacrifice profits in the interest of race-based reparations.

"If American Express cares about racial justice in the world, it can’t simply say the market’s going to define how we price certain customers, who happen to come from low-income communities," he said. "If you want to do good, then you’re going to have to set up products and [product] lines that don’t maximize profit."


In September, five current and former AmEx employees — speaking on condition of anonymity — told FOX Business that the company singles out Black people for promotion in a practice that former employees described as reverse discrimination against White people. The employees did not present internal documents to demonstrate an official policy, but they said they witnessed a worrisome trend that raises questions about racial discrimination in promotion. One former employee said they quit because the critical race theory trainings and the apparent promotion of employees due to skin color sent the message that White employees could not expect to even be considered for promotion. 

American Express denied this accusation in a statement.

"We have a high-achieving culture, and we are proud of our dedicated and highly engaged colleagues," an American Express spokesperson told FOX Business. "Advancement within our company is based solely on individual business and leadership performance. Any characterization of our company and culture to the contrary is just plain wrong."


The statement also claimed that the company's "diversity, equity, and inclusion programs" focus on upholding a commitment to "a diverse and inclusive culture where all colleagues feel welcome and heard and have equal opportunities to thrive regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, sexual orientation, and nationality." The programs "are not based on any specific theory, nor are they directed to a specific group of employees."

In August, Rufo revealed documents showing that Bank of America, Lowe's and Truist Financial Corporation sponsored a United Way critical race theory "Racial Equity 21-Day Challenge" claiming that America is systemically and institutionally racist, encouraging participants to "decolonize" their minds and get "woke at work" and urging white people to "cede power to people of color."

The Racial Equity 21-Day Challenge included a document with responses to potential objections. Should participants ask about reverse discrimination, the guide claims that there is no such thing. The document also claims that people of color cannot be racist: "Racism is used to justify the position of the dominant group, White people in this case, and to uphold White supremacy and superiority. Everyone can be biased, and engage in bigoted and belittling behavior that is intolerant of other perspectives. But racism is by definition a form of oppression exercised by the dominant racial group (Whites)."


Bank of America spokesman Bill Haldin told FOX Business that his company does not endorse these ideas and that it does not run its own employee trainings along these lines. 

"This was not our program and not our training materials," he said. "The United Way ran this program independent of Bank of America, and it is not part of our training material."

Lowe's and Truist Financial did not respond to FOX Business' request for comment.

The pharmaceutical company Pfizer has set goals to fill a percentage of leadership positions with Black and Hispanic candidates by the year 2025, in the name of fighting "systemic racism." In September, FOX Business reported on an Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) Report 2020, published in March 2021, in which Pfizer set "opportunity parity goals" for 2025. Those goals include "increasing our minority representation from 19% to 32% and doubling the underrepresented population of African Americans/Blacks and Hispanics/Latinos."

The report includes a letter from Albert Bourla, Pfizer's chairman and CEO, in which Bourla says he is "proud" of having "set concrete goals to address systemic racism and gender equity challenges by reviewing and augmenting our plans to increase diversity and opportunity parity by 2025, particularly focusing on increasing female and U.S. minority representation at leadership levels."

"We now have quotas, basically, in hiring and promotions," explained a current Pfizer employee, who spoke with FOX Business on condition of anonymity. The employee said the company hosted events with Ibram X. Kendi and encouraged employees to read books written by Robin DiAngelo, two prominent CRT proponents.


"We don’t have quotas as part of our hiring process," a Pfizer spokesperson told FOX Business. "We stand by our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts as it relates to our human capital. We strive to make Pfizer as diverse as the patients and communities we serve."