In our blog about allyship, we talked about real allyship. Now we’re going to shine a light on the dark side of allyship, performative allyship. This blog will unpack the terminology and provide ways to help us not engage in these practices.
The hard truth is that if we’re in a position of privilege, we’ve probably participated in some form of performative allyship intentionally or unintentionally. That’s why it’s important to be aware of what it is, spot it, and challenge it when we see it.
Performative allyship is when a person of privilege professes support for a marginalized group, like the LGBTQI+ community, to gain favor and social capitalism. A performative ally will make claims of solidarity, often to avoid scrutiny or being called out. Those who engage in this behavior play the part without genuine support and little to no follow-through. These actions are self-centered and are often used to make them appear in a better light and prove to themselves that they aren’t discriminatory.
How to Spot It and Avoid Engaging with It
What Performative Allyship Looks like on an Individual Level
Taking no personal responsibility for systematic issues
Refusing to listen or engage in uncomfortable conversations
Surface-level support like posting on social media without any action or follow-through
Denying the reality of marginalized groups and the LGBTQI+ community
Bragging about supporting a cause
Performative Allyship on an Organizational Level
Performative allyship within an organization is particularly poisonous as it can infect an entire organization from the top-down. Organizational leaders are responsible for ensuring their teams are productive and profitable. But employees today hold leadership accountable and demand more than empty promises in the name of equality. This may tempt leaders to use performative allyship as a strategy to increase employee engagement. But instead of actual change, the status quo is maintained, with no support or defense of marginalized employees made.
On an organizational level, this may look like:
Leaders playing lipservice to solidarity without tangible support of marginalized employees
Claims of equality without any policies that support and project marginalized employees
Lack of diversity in hiring practice with claims of diversity and equality on job ads and websites
Failure to address complaints of discrimination
Lack of any actual or sustained change on an organizational level
An entirely homogeneous leadership team
Performative allyship is damaging individually and collectively, and seriously, making our world safe and equal for all. But we can help keep each other and our organizations accountable.
Tips for Preventing Performative Allyship within Workplaces
As a leader, ensure your workplace has clear anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Demand that these policies be put in place and enforced. Offer education and bias training to managers and employees on discrimination and microaggressions. Ensure that the reporting practice is safe for employees. Refuse to give in to pressure to behave like a performative ally and call out peers who are doing so.
As an employee, practice being a real ally. If you see discrimination, othering, or microaggressions happening, report it to the correct channels. Don’t let it slide. If you feel safe, speak up for co-workers. Hold your company accountable for rainbow washing by asking critical questions. Read more about how to do so in this WST interview.