By Carmen Morris
Performative allyship is becoming the order of the day, with many professing support for marginalized groups. It has become a recurring theme in recent times, with many in leadership positions quick to lend rhetorical support to diversity and inclusion, particularly in the area of race equality.
With the onset of global reactions to the death of George Floyd, leaders who were once reticent in championing racial equality, have found their voices in an attempt to align to racial equity and express solidarity with the cause. Far from being supportive of an anti-racist agenda, performative allyship has a disturbing influence, which stifles progress and has the detrimental effect of suppressing attempts to foster genuinely inclusive workplace environments.
Now the dust is settling, and employees, of all backgrounds have had the chance to consider the key concerns around race equality, or the lack of it, issues around the authenticity of leadership, are taking centre stage.
Performative allyship has become an issue of concern across the race equality agenda, so much so that Black employees have begun to call out surface level activism in the workplace, and across social media. The problem with performative allyship, is that it maintains the status quo and renders illegitimate, any attempts to change processes that support structural racism, and other barriers.
What Is It and What It Looks Like
Allyship is an authentic support system, in which someone from outside a marginalized group advocates for those who are victims of discriminatory behaviour, whether that is at an individual level, or systemically and process driven. With authentic allyship there is an obvious, and genuine attempt, to transfer the benefits of privilege to those who lack it, in order to advocate on the marginalized groups behalf, and support them to achieve change.
Performative allyship, by contrast, is where those with privilege, profess solidarity with a cause. This assumed solidarity is usually vocalized, disingenuous and potentially harmful to marginalized groups. Often, the performative ally professes allegiance in order to distance themselves from potential scrutiny. In many cases, organizational leaders use performance driven activity, in a way that they believe will protect company brand from being highlighted in a negative way. It is often referred to by Black employees and their supporters, as ‘talking the talk, without walking the walk.’
Performative Allyship Damages the Race Equality Agenda
In organizations that have consistently maintained a homogeneous leadership, the power of decision making and development of policy and processes, has largely been the preserve of white people, with little or no input from those of different hues. When performative allyship is enacted at the top of these organizations, employees of different backgrounds stand little chance of ever breaking through systemic barriers that have been designed by those in power.
There are many people across organizations, who do want to support the cause of race equality but may find it difficult, due to the fear of speaking out, and the associated, real or imagined, repercussions from leadership. This leads many, who would otherwise genuinely support racial equality, to maintain a performative stance within the workplace environment. This is an issue because as difficult and uncomfortable as it might be, the only way to truly break the chains of systemic racism is to speak up and engage in genuine allyship to support the agenda.
If those who embody privilege, are fearful of engaging with the race equality agenda then they too, are part of the problem. Performative allyship only supports the reinforcement of attitudes and behaviours that maintain discriminatory practices within the workplace.
Performative Allyship In Organizational Culture
When performative allyship embeds itself into organizational culture, particularly at leadership and managerial levels, it sends the signal that it is right to show affinity towards racial equality, but that it is not important enough to do much, if anything about it. If performative allyship then becomes part of the corporate value system, Black employees are likely to suffer from the effects of operational, structural and racist micro-aggressivebehaviours, which are likely to further marginalize them. This leads to a situation where there becomes embedded, a perpetual cycle of discrimination, which will ostracize genuine allyship, and worsen the workplace experience of Black and Brown employees.
Let us be clear. Black employees are exhausted by generational chains that have bound them to be considered ‘less than’ within the workplace setting and across society. Organizationally approved, systemic racism supported by performative allyship in the workplace, does nothing to support the race equality agenda. Rather, it renders Black and Brown employees powerless to subvert the very systems that have been put in place to undermine them, and invalidate their experiences.
For leadership, it is simply not enough to be ‘woke’ and make performative statements. It is time to listen to the concerns of employees and colleagues, who continue to suffer under systems that are in place to ensure that they remain marginalized. Anti-racism is part of the solution for race equality, and must form part of knowledge building activities for behavioural change to support a truly authentic, and inclusive environment. Putting on a performance is just that, but when the performance is exposed for what it is, brand image, personal, and professional reputations will be challenged and brought into focus.
Anti-Racism is Not a Performance Game
The anti-racist agenda is central to the race equality agenda. It is the avenue through which real, authentic inclusion is ultimately supported. As an agenda, anti-racism is transformative in nature. Being consciously authentic about positive structural change means moving away from performative allyship and realizing, and embedding anti-racist solutions to become inclusive. The agenda supports ‘becoming’, not merely talking about it.
Collette Philip, a life-long supporter of anti-racism, is the Managing Director of the UK based marketing agency Brand by Me. She works closely with brands to support them to move away from performative allyship and explore the impact of building inclusive and anti-racist. Her agency supports brands to engage in a more positive and purpose led way through anti-racism and inclusive brand culture.
Collette says “if you are serious about anti-racism, you need to make it part of your brand, part of who you are, what you stand for, and how you do things. This is not about performative appearance, it is about embedding anti-racism so that it becomes part of your identity.”
Collette supports her clients to go beyond mere representation on a visual level, and moves them towards an acknowledgement of anti-racism throughout all branding processes. She said “Very often, brands need external support to help them align branding to real and authentic activity internally, as well as the messages they send about the brand externally.”
Originally Posted On Forbes.com