The topic of diversity and inclusion has always been more than just a statistic for us at Deltra. Since we founded the company, we have envisioned Deltra being a place where immutable characteristics have no bearing on the success or treatment you receive here.
This is why we believe in authentic allyship and the incorporation of impactful diversity and inclusion programmes into our company, like our mentoring programme. We’ve found that performative allyship is a common pitfall for many businesses when it comes to implementing a successful diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy into your organisation.
To help us understand more about what performative diversity and inclusion entails, we spoke with Tavier Taylor, Chief Technology Officer of Chartered Management Institute and a panellist at our latest Women in Transformation event, about what true allyship looks like to her. She references the challenges of being the only woman in a team, the impact that a shallow approach to diversity and inclusion can have on your workforce, and how organisations can build a plan to avoid it altogether.
Signs of performative activism
Performative allyship is an insincere way of promoting a brand as ‘socially aware’, without actually driving affirmative action related to the cause. This can be damaging for marginalised employees and therefore, companies would benefit from being aware about what they can do to ensure that they are being authentic in their activism.
Some examples of performative activism include:
These forms of outward allyship are not reflective of the company, but rather, reflective of the people that they are showing support for. They only serve to conceal the real issue and implicate a short-term commitment to what needs to be a long-term focus to enable institutional change.
An example of this that Tavier outlines is the public support that many companies gave for the Black Lives Matter movement, in light of George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Although vocal on social media, many employees of said companies were left feeling ignored, due to the lack of internal programmes or conversations set up as a result. For many, business went on as usual, thus making the allyship feel very hollow, as though the support was just for the personal gain of the business.
Avoiding performative allyship
Companies can often face this roadblock of being stuck exhibiting solely performance-based allyship, rather than implementing real change in the business. There are genuine methods to make your business more supportive of issues concerning diversity and inclusion, rather than engaging in what can be perceived to be shallow attempts.
Setting D&I specific goals
One of the main reasons that a company can be accused of being performative is their lack of sufficient goals. To ensure that you’re working in an inclusive working environment, it’s important to know what initiatives are in place to improve the current inclusion strategy.
Tavier referenced a time in her career where she worked for an organisation, and she was the only woman and person of colour on the team. The company had no goals to be more inclusive for the demographic that she was a part of, and they engaged in frequent golfing as a team activity. It was through this that most deals were done, and the best jobs went to those in the golf club.
It was very much an “old boys club”, as she puts it, and it was clear that there were no goals in place to make the group activities more inclusive to those who were not well-versed in golfing. This includes people who could not afford the fees or had no interesting in playing the sport altogether. There needed to be more inclusive ways to get people in front of those who will help them progress in their career.
This involves the recognition that racial, economic, and gender-based justice is not just a momentary issue, but it’s a movement that requires forward-thinking leadership, starting from the top of the organisation. Business leaders should acknowledge that there is always more to learn, and even unlearn, about these systematic issues, and therefore recognise the impact of exclusivity on progression opportunities for those who don’t fit the quota.
Working towards strategies is only possible if the company has clear goals that they would like to achieve first. In this case, a practical aim was to create a space where marginalised employees would have the chance to present their skills to the right people, in a way that would allow them to progress career-wise.
A sure sign that a company is participating in performative activism is through shallow social media posts of support. The Everyone Economy report found that for many businesses, their belief of what they were doing in relation to diversity and inclusion was very out of touch with what their employees perceived had been done.
Tavier notes that she has spoken with peers about these issues, and many resonate with not feeling recognised by their employers, in spite of the social issues the institutions are publicly supporting. Instead, they’re left to feel as though their employers have just put public statements of support with the aim of following the trend and being viewed as a socially aware brand.
To overcome the lack of progression opportunities, Tavier was part of a programme which allowed diverse employees to pitch projects in a project management office. The projects being pitched were very high visibility, and this is what allowed her career to accelerate, as she was granted with the opportunity to showcase her skillset. This was unrelated to her background, and it was solely about succeeding in a project and meeting people that she wouldn’t have otherwise had exposure to.
As well as creating these spaces for progression, it’s important to engage with these employees on an emotional level, recognising the hardships that they have faced, whether this be through discrimination in the workplace or events happening in the news. It’s crucial to show employees that you care through asking how they feel, as well as giving ethnic minorities the chance to work in leadership roles where they have the capacity to affect change.
Being a resonant ally
Being a better ally involves assisting marginalised employees in reaching their full potential and supporting them in their journey to do so. Doing this will help employees feel important to the company, therefore improving wellbeing and retention.
Tavier offers an example of the most impactful allies being those who pioneer initiatives as part of their job offer. If the company shows little interest in moving forward with implementing strategies that will improve the inclusivity of the company, allies can take a stance through stating that their lack of action towards a more diverse future is the reason they would not like to move forward with the company. The most resonant allies are those that give this form of feedback, whereby they state that they aren’t taking a role because they don’t feel like all employees’ voices will be heard equally.
Working in a diverse environment in more than just a statistical issue, but for many, it can be highly impactful on whether they see an opportunity for progression, as not seeing leaders that look like you can be a tell-tale sign of the lack of D&I initiatives in place.
As Tavier said, “Being an ally is about looking at where people are coming from and seeing things through their eyes.” If organisations do not have anything in place to help their marginalised employees reach their full potential, then allies have the power to raise the concern. This demonstrates that it’s a valid problem and that it can deter future employees from wanting to work for the company.
Moving forward with authentic allyship
The most important thing to remember when becoming an authentic ally is understanding that performative allyship is not hard to overcome. Performance-based allyship usually consists of low-level and ill-informed statements that although not evident to employers, are obvious to marginalised employees.
This is why it’s crucial for leaders to adopt an anti-prejudice stance that embodies real support for the diversity and inclusion agenda. In this political climate especially, the quality of inclusion-based strategies is of critical social concern, so tackling these concerns demands real, in-depth action and discussion.
Performative diversity and inclusion campaigns from companies are not only damaging to employees but can have a negative effect on your reputation as a business, in fact research shows that 78% of candidates would prefer to work for an organisation where this is a priority.
Ensuring that all employees are heard equally, regardless of background, will unlock great potential for the future of your company and allow for a more open and innovative working environment overall.
If you’d like to hear more from Tavier Taylor, check out our Women In Transformation series, where she speaks as a panellist.
Diversity & Inclusion Women in Transformation From the Experts