Performative allyship is when an organisation or individual professes solidarity with a cause but the support is disingenuous, usually powered by a desire to distance themselves from scrutiny or attract a virtual pat on the back.
This surface-level activism, known as “slacktivism”, can even damage the marginalised group it poses as supporting. Without meaningful action, performative allyship can stifle progress and suppress attempts to foster genuinely inclusive workplaces by offering an excuse for those with privilege not to make the effort or sacrifices needed to address systemic issues.
Plus, it can actually pave the way for covert discriminatory behaviour, such as microaggressions, leaving employees to feel further marginalised and looking for the door.
In contrast, authentic allies acknowledge their privilege and use it for the greater good with not just individual actions to make tangible and lasting systemic improvements, but through lobbying for wider action and cultural change.
In a previous blog, I listed the ways you can identify whether your company allyship is meaningful or not. But how do we prevent ourselves from plunging into these pitfalls in the first place? Here are some top tips:
- Face the problem
Privilege can blind us to the issues faced by marginalised groups, but it doesn’t mean the issues don’t exist. Educating yourself and keeping up-to-date with the latest news – and encouraging those around you to do the same – is key. Even reach out and proactively listen to your employees to understand how you can become a better ally for them and support marginalised groups within your community.
You may be faced with some uncomfortable truths, but you cannot move to a place of growth without becoming aware and acknowledging the oppressive system in which you operate, have benefitted from or even contributed to in the past.
- Value equality, diversity and inclusion
Make ED&I a priority within your company’s strategy, rather than a gesture and something you should do. Fostering an inclusive environment where everyone feels seen and heard, and has the psychological safety to be able to speak up and demonstrate authentic allyship, is a definitive way to sidestep performative allyship, as well as create a workplace that attracts the best talent, encourages creativity and produces higher revenues.
Leaders must lead by example here as employees need to see consistent and full buy-in from the C-Suite down. This could include ensuring all teams, whatever level of leadership, reflect the company’s ED&I values by having representatives from marginalised groups and ensuring everyone, no matter their background, is given the chance to develop and progress within the organisation.
- Be consistent
True allyship cannot be achieved through one training session – it takes more than an inspirational speaker and some new policies and procedures. It requires consistent, often unsung, action every day so be prepared to commit to the long term.
To keep yourself motivated, think of creative ways you can keep allyship in everyone’s mind’s eye. Perhaps use stories in the news, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, or national awareness days to act as impetus to start regular conversations within team meetings or internal newsletters. Just be aware that some of the issues you raise may be difficult for certain marginalised groups to talk about and no-one should ever be pressured to share their experiences if they do not want to. Remember, everyone should take responsibility for their own education.
- Ask for help
If your organisation is truly committed to improving its allyship, you don’t need to figure it out alone. Impartial experts can take an objective look at your existing allyship credentials and help you have those uncomfortable, yet crucial, conversations through providing a safe space for employees to speak out about their experiences, especially if they’re concerned about any forms of retaliation.
Tell Jane can be just that expert for you. Our skilled HR practitioners can help your company evaluate its EDI strategy and prevent toxic workplace issues, such as performative allyship. Email email@example.com to get started.