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Corporate Activism: Performative DEI initiatives can be ineffective.

April 13, 20235 min read

Corporate Activism: Performative DEI initiatives can be ineffective.

What Does it Mean to be ‘Performative’ in DEI?

Performative DEI is hardly anything new. Corporate activism has often been called out for being a meaningless gesture instead of a real, substantial change. The way organizations and groups treat the principles of diversity, equality, and inclusion now carries a lot of weight. From government agencies to institutions, these three terms have gained prominence. Despite their popularity, people may be confused as to what these terms truly represent. Why are these remarks being given so much weight?

Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Initiatives — commonly abbreviated to DEII — are useful methods for demonstrating how dedicated an institution is to achieving racial fairness. These performative initiatives, which are intended to be showcased rather than to effect genuine change, might be presented without being carried through. These projects are performative since they exist to be applauded rather than accomplished. They are generally announced but never seen. 

If performative DEI efforts are hollow, what does a DEI have to do to avoid being labeled as nothing more than theatrical?

First of all, a DEI effort should put the responsibility on the organization rather than the person, since the typical member of a group lacks the strength or influence to meaningfully alter a company's culture.

By shifting responsibility for change to workers rather than fostering any support or encouragement for DEI, a firm might claim to be addressing racial disparity while achieving no outcomes.

The effect of a DEI program is another indicator of performance change. Even when responsibility for an initiative is assigned to an organization rather than an individual person, a DEI effort may have no effect. It is performative if an endeavor has no defined aims or creates no changes. 

Considering how simple it is, performative "allyship" is usually shown much more frequently than true, significant involvement. Acknowledging that fairness, diversity, and inclusion are beneficial things does not imply allyship. Allyship when done right, means that you acknowledge systematic inequalities as well as recognize the impact of microaggressions towards marginalized groups. 

Talking a good game is much easier than walking the walk. 

Therefore, how can businesses prevent well-intended initiatives from being dismissed as performance measures? The greatest approach for a real organization's efforts to have an effect is to admit that systemic and institutional racism are real issues that must be addressed and to explain how their programs address these systemic problems. 

A company may establish the framework for a successful DEI effort by demonstrating it wants to learn and, by extension, showing its willingness to adapt.

 In many companies, performative "allyship" has proven to be a typical pitfall in DEI (which is diversity, equity, and inclusion) practice. Performative allyship, simply put is publicly displaying support for a cause but without doing substantial steps behind the curtains. This blog delves into what performative allyship is in the workplace– and what a company can do to prevent it.

What exactly does the term "performative" mean?

diverse women

The desire to express support and unity with individuals or a certain group who are marginalized and even discriminated against is at the heart of performative allyship. Performative allyship differs from real allyship in that it is often utilized by parties who are not impacted by such difficulties. As a result, it may be dishonest, carried out to endorse the company brand or exhibit social consciousness rather than to drive positive action linked to the cause itself. Performative allyship may be particularly harmful to oppressed communities.

In the last few years, performative allyship itself garners a lot of attention. The most widely mentioned example is #BlackOutTuesday, which took place on June 2, 2020, and saw social media profiles everywhere upload photos of black squares in protest of racism as well as police brutality via the aftermath of the deaths of Floyd, George, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Whilst many well-meaning social media users certainly thought they were helping the cause by boosting awareness, many demonstrators were against the black squares as they obscured postings concerning the actual events, which may have generated more genuine support and awareness.

How to Avoid Performative Affinity

Performative allyship is an easy “garment” of behaviors to slip into - sometimes accidentally - but it can be prevented with deliberate effort along with a few simple techniques.

Include DEI and allies in your brand.

Companies that incorporate DEI and true allyship into their culture and principles are more likely to implement meaningful stewardship in their daily operations. DEI may then be embedded into processes and systems, warranting consistent actions and behaviors across the business.

Establishing precise DEI objectives.

Making DEI a goal-driven initiative will increase accountability and ensure it is at the top of daily, and long-term agendas. It is critical to measure DEI using SMART objectives (goals that are precise, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound). Leaders must report on DEI progress on a regular basis. Rewarding achievement when objectives are met and feedback whenever goals are neglected are both essential.

Employees at DEI should be compensated.

Establishing a specialized DEI department or paying employees who work on DEI committees or projects would quantify its worth to the business and serve as a spur for executives to guarantee DEI teams achieve a return on investment. Providing a budget for DEI, in short, will raise accountability and, ideally, drive outcomes.

Continue DEI training.

DEI is essentially educated as annual 'statutory' refresher trainings to check a box, meetings that are necessary for all workers to attend. DEI training should be a continuous plus engaging practice where learning may be applied, comprehended, and therefore perpetuated. This technique will considerably contribute to a profound understanding of the significance of DEI.

Performative allyship is a common mistake for organizations, but it is also a simple one to avoid. DEI initiatives can take place with a few basic cultural changes, some thoroughly strategic preparation, and a tad bit of coinage, opening the path for true allyship.


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Rene Coleman

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