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Do you have a “Cancel Culture”?

Text: Do you have a "cancel culture"?

Before you begin reading this post, I want to make it very clear that this is not a post relating to country or global politics. 

In this context, it is however, a post inviting you to consider your organisational and personal “politics”.

New vocab arises constantly. It does however seem that in the past 12 or so months, we have experienced an influx of words and phrases that were once unheard of in mainstream circles. These include…

  • Covid19
  • CoronaVirus
  • Lockdown
  • Bubbles
  • Superspreader
  • Moonshot
  • Workation
  • Anthropause
  • Social Distancing
  • Mask-shaming

One phrase that has arisen recently is Cancel Culture”. 

According to Kimberly Foster, founder of the website For Harreit, who has written about Cancel Culture – the term is used to apply to a range of actions.

“Cancel culture can include everything from people with the most money and privilege in our society getting push back for saying things others found distasteful to regular everyday people losing their jobs for relatively minor infractions.”

When it was first being used among young people on the internet, cancelling was a way to say, “I’m done with you”.

But as cancelling became more widely used on social media it has grown into a way to call on others to reject a person or business. This can happen when the target breaks social norms – for example, making sexist comments – but it has also happened when people have expressed opinions on politics, business and even pop culture.

The star of Blackadder and Mr Bean, Rowan Atkinson recently commented that “Online cancel culture is like a medieval mob looking for someone to burn“.

He said:

“The problem we have online is that an algorithm decides what we want to see, which ends up creating a simplistic, binary view of society. It becomes a case of either you’re with us or against us. If you’re against us, you deserve to be ‘cancelled’.” 

My concern, as someone who works alongside leaders and their organisations to build Emotional and Social Intelligence, is that Cancel Culture is alive and well, both online and face-to-face. 

Let me explain. There are a number of ways people can be Cancelled within an organisation, or even cancel themselves personally. Below are some comments I have unfortunately heard…

Stay in your lane.

That’s above your pay-scale to think about.

That’s not how we do it here.

When you’ve been here for …, then you get a say.

You’re not one of us.

…or You are totally ignored.


I’m not in the in-crowd.

They don’t like me.

I’m too outspoken for their liking.

I’m not the right colour, gender, orientation etc…

It’s easier to agree.


Comments such as these ostricise, shut-down and shut-up people with ideas other than the accepted ‘norm’. 

If you are a person or organisation that says you value diversity, then that also needs to include diversity of thought and expression.

Cancel Culture is insidious. Like a virus, it spreads throughout an organisation and individuals until “Group-Think” and “Vanilla” is the norm. 

Left unchecked, it causes a lack of psychological safety, oppression, discrimination and bullying.

So my questions for your consideration this week are:

  • How open are you to exploring ideas other than your own?
  • What do you say in your mind when you hear an opinion or thought other than your own? (And be honest)
  • Do certain voices get heard over others in your organisation? Why is that?
  • Does your organisation have ‘lanes’; overt or implicit, that people need to stay in?
  • Are you part-of, supporting, or leading a Cancel Culture?

Leading can be HARD, particularly as a female leader.

Challenging the accepted norms and narratives can be especially tricky. Alongside that you need to back yourself and silence the inner critic to be able to take the leap into something you have been yearning to take for ages. It takes courage and grit.

But what if there was a space you could do this that was safe and supportive. A space where you could become a soft and strong leader in your professional field. 

If this is you, then I would like to invite you to join me in my upcoming Soft and Strong Leadership for Women Seminar Series starting Monday, 1 March 2021.


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