Over recent years, social activism appears to be increasingly normalized. However, 2020 was a historic year for social activism. Millions across the world joined together to fight for equality, justice, and reparations. Those included in the millions of people were many companies and organizations who expressed their solidarity on social media platforms and their websites. As companies announced where they stand on particular issues, they either took action, lacked the resources to implement action, or simply advertised their involvement to increase their social capital. The latter is defined as performative activism.
Countless employers may pledge to take a more active stance on inclusion efforts in recent years, however, it is more than likely for those promises to fizzle out. This blog addresses the meaning of performative activism as well as the why’s and how to take real action to contribute to real change.
What is Performative Activism?
Performative activism is a form of activism that is done for the purpose of maximizing a person/organization’s social capital. This term gained recognition with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement when various companies and organizations used this movement to bring awareness to themselves and showed little to no effort towards the movement. Criticism pointed out that the motivation behind their actions is part of the problem. Many people/organizations that falsely advocate for important causes only do so to avoid social backlash rather than genuinely supporting the cause.
A common example of performative activism is the repetition of hollow statements of condolences when tragedy strikes. These statements ultimately serve nothing but a ‘checkbox’ to prove to society that a company is worth a customer’s support if they support similar social causes at a surface level. Many employers unknowingly lean towards performative activism to distance themselves from potential scrutiny and protect the company brand from being highlighted in a negative light. As an employer with a potential impact on society, our responsibilities run far deeper than simply reflecting solidarity in official statements. It is essential to adopt an anti-discriminatory stance that embodies real and authentic support for vulnerable groups which eventually becomes a part of your brand on a daily basis. Not just when it is convenient.
Now let’s dive into how to take real action on social issues.
How to Take Action
There are a few notable examples of how influential employers have taken a step further to ensure that their efforts are far from performative and actually impactful. Walmart, one of North America’s largest retailers, pledged to stop locking up ‘multi-cultural’ hair and beauty products in display cases. Similarly, Sephora committed to devoting at least 15% of its shelf space to black-owned beauty brands. These two companies directly impact the affected community to show that they deserve more than a public statement.
In light of the discoveries of more than 1,300 unmarked graves at the site of four former residential schools, social media (specifically LinkedIn) was flooding with statements from employers expressing anger, sadness, shame, and remorse. While the first step to accountability is recognition, it does not stop there.
At Envol, we feel that a public statement on LinkedIn is not enough to help the families and lives who are haunted by the legacy of Canada’s Indian residential school system. Our team took the time to research how to raise awareness for Indigenous-focused programs and services. We also made the effort to donate financially to:
- Indian Residential School Survivors Society (https://www.irsss.ca)
- Kuu-Us Crisis Line Society (https://www.kuu-uscrisisline.com)
- Indspire – Indigenous Education, Canada’s Future (https://indspire.ca)
Here are a few questions to consider when engaging in meaningful activism:
- Whose voices are we amplifying? – Your organization should support causes that are realigned with your ethics and values. Give the movement a platform for its voice to be heard.
- What can my organization do internally to solve this issue? – Identify ways your organization can promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This can be through training, engaging in constructive conversations, and/or developing more inclusive hiring strategies.
- What can my organization do externally to solve this issue? – communicate with your local community members and employees on what work needs to be done. This is key to achieving that next step away from performative action! When shareholders, consumers, and investors join the cause, it spreads your message further than a single post on social media.
Why Take Action?
Ultimately, performative action does more harm than good for the affected communities. It has a disturbing influence that stifles progress on fostering genuinely inclusive workplace environments by maintaining the status quo and repeating the cycle of producing hollow statements of condolences. Engaging in activism is an integral part of corporate social responsibility. As token statements usually land employers in hot water, it is crucial for you to support your words with actions and making activism a part of your company values. If done correctly, your organization can receive the following benefits:
- Gaining support from your followers/consumers
- Increase in funding from investors to put towards donations, training opportunities, and improved internal processes to benefit affected employees
- A boost in employee performance and overall employee satisfaction!
More importantly, your organization will be making strides towards positive change and your community will thank you for it.
If you need support in how your organization can create a more genuinely inclusive workspace? Contact us at [email protected] – we’d love to hear from you!