Pride month and performative allyship in the workplace
Engagement 4 minute read

Pride month and performative allyship in the workplace

Megan Orr | June 23, 2022

Performative allyship in the workplace is when organizations seem like they’re allies to different groups of people, but aren’t necessarily actually doing the work behind-the-scenes to be an ally. Learn more about the concept and what you can do to prevent performative allyship in the workplace.

In honour of Pride Month, many organizations have changed their logos to rainbow colours for June, released new ad campaigns, and posted sentiments of support and celebration across their social media channels. It’s a meaningful gesture—but it’s only meaningful if it’s backed by actual action or organizational policy. Otherwise, it risks falling into the category of performative allyship in the workplace. 

Performative allyship or performative activism is defined as “activism done to increase one's social capital rather than because of one's devotion to a cause [and] is often associated with surface-level activism, referred to as slacktivism”. In the workplace, performative allyship can take the form of hoisting Pride flags and heralding support while also aligning with other organizations that don’t support or actively harm the LGBTQIA+ community and doing no real work to increase diversity and inclusion. 

Performative allyship in the workplace, while seemingly well intentioned and harmless, is really more about optics than anything else. Slacktivism can actually be quite insidious, as it gives the impression that a workplace values inclusivity, taking the pressure off to do the actual work to facilitate diversity and inclusion (D&I) and create a culture of psychological safety. 

Of course, performative allyship goes beyond LGBTQIA+. International Women’s Day, National Indigenous Peoples Day, and Black History Month are a few other “events” that typically result in performative allyship from organizations. A Fortune article explored performative allyship in the workplace and how black employees found that “their companies speak out in support of racial equality but don’t hire black executives or equally pay black employees, don’t listen to their concerns regarding discrimination, or were completely silent about racism up until now”. 

These variances in public shows of support and what’s really happening within an organization happen across all industries. LGBTQIA+ people in the workplace don’t need the company logo to be changed to a rainbow or a social media post proclaiming #HappyPride! What they need is for their employer to support them for who they are every single day by choosing to incorporate that support into their policies and culture.

Performative allyship in the workplace is really about the difference between intention and impact. 

Generally, people who are engaging in allyship—whether performative or not—have good (or at least not bad) intentions. The difference is in the impact: Are your actions actually having a positive impact on your LGBTQIA+ employees?  

Here are some of the ways that you can ensure that your allyship is not performative but actually beneficial to your employees. 

  • Include information about your organization’s diversity and inclusion policies in all of your job postings. This is pretty standard across many industries and, while it may seem quite small, not including it may leave otherwise qualified LGBTQIA+ job candidates wondering if they’re welcome to apply. 
  • Make sure you use and encourage inclusive language. Avoid greetings that use gendered language such as “hi guys!” or “hello ladies” and encourage (but don’t mandate) employees to share their pronouns in meetings or email signatures. 
  • Avoid tokenism. If you have only a few openly LGBTQIA+ employees in your organization, don’t force them to be their own advocates for D&I. Of course, let them provide feedback if they choose to, but don’t force them to be the spokesperson of your initiatives. Tokenism is a clear sign of performative allyship in the workplace. 
  • Offer opportunities for education. Whether you provide resources to your employees in an email, such as GLAAD’s website or this article from Sesimi on good and bad Pride campaigns, or you bring in a speaker to talk about the history of Pride, closing the education gap is an important part of allyship.
  • Perform an anonymous survey. Circulate a survey to all employees to gather information about your current D&I initiatives—what employees think about them, what more you could be doing, or if they even know about them. 
  • Make a plan. Based on the feedback you receive, create a plan to achieve specific goals. For example, if your feedback showed that the majority of employees don’t know about your D&I policies and initiatives, make sure to revamp and recirculate them.
  • Don’t try for perfection, just try. Employees will value your continual and genuine effort more than anything.

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