Every month of the year seems to be associated with some sort of celebration for different marginalized groups in the world. It’s the perfect time for companies to advocate for their employees and customers alike by creating supportive campaigns for said group. However, the growing trend of corporate support seems to end there. Turning corporate social activism into performative activism.
What is performative activism?
When your favorite brand or company posts a black square in support of Black Lives Matter, or a rainbow flag in support of Pride Month, it is nice to think that this brand is not only posting on social media. You hope they have programs to ensure their employee demographic is as diverse as possible. You want to think they support and donate to these causes. Most importantly, you hope that the money you spend with this company will not be used to lobby for laws that actively work against these causes.
This is what performative activism is
For one reason or another, these companies are using social injustices to benefit themselves without actually advancing the causes within these movements. These companies will say they support a cause and do nothing else besides that. Looking at you #BlackoutTuesday
Being called out for performative activism shouldn't be a bad thing!
Once a company gets marked for performative activism, people can be quick to “cancel” them and no longer use their services or products. Companies get scared of this type of social media downfall and will try quickly to remedy the situation. However, instead of taking this as an accusation, your company should look at this as a business critique just like any failure they might encounter.
Talk the talk and walk the walk
What can your company do to avoid performative activism?
There are endless ways for a company to avoid this hollow form of activism. Some can be long term initiatives and things a company can do right now. Such as:
Create a transparent workplace
- Publish your diversity data about hiring, leadership and attrition, even if it's bad! Owning up to the lack of diversity is the best step to understanding how it can get better.
- Publicly declare meaningful goals to increase diversity. Public appreciation can go a long way once a company releases this type of data, but only if it's followed up with a plan to do better.
Fully dedicate time and funding for hiring and retaining folks from these communities
- Recruitment should be encouraged to engage with these communities. Think outside the box and be creative when it comes to ticking off requirements for a position.
- Junior positions are usually filled with people from minority groups while leadership is predominantly white and male. Dedicate resources to mentoring those in junior positions to help them move up the corporate ladder.
Add financial support with that social media post
- Your company can make donations to nonprofits supporting these causes.
- Create programs that give members of these groups discounts for services.
Questions to ask before your social activism campaign
Before any company thinks to engage with social activism in the media, its really important to answer the following:
Why are we doing this campaign? Who’s voices are we uplifting?
Figure out the connection your company has with this cause or identify how committed your company is to this cause. Be sure your company’s values match up with it. If you find that if your company doesn't align with the cause, it might not be the one to support.
What can my organization do to help this cause internally?
Your company can work to implement inclusive hiring and promotion practices like
- Writing inclusive job descriptions that are also accessible
- Expand where jobs are advertised
- Include DEI into your brand
- Structure career growth both vertically and horizontally
- Standardize your interview protocols for all candidates
- Create programs that give members of these groups discounts for services
What can my organization do to help this cause externally?
Collaboration here is key. Invite employees, shareholders, consumers and investors to join in with the support of a cause either by volunteering or spreading the word. Your company can of course fund programs and donate to an advocacy group but going the extra mile and working with these organizations will go a long way.
If you find your company’s answers to the above questions lack clear intentions and plans, and they’re still planning to go through with their latest pride merchandise, you might just see your company’s name trending for all the wrong reasons on Twitter.
Benefits of true Corporate Social Activism (CSA)
Your company can gain so much when truly engaging with social activism. In fact, recent research suggests that socially responsible businesses generate stronger returns for their shareholders and have greater brand value in the marketplace.
More importantly, the cause being supported can thrive by using the brand's recognition to get these social issues to the masses and to key decision-makers like never before, creating pressure to change laws and make new policies. For example, through the collaborative work of social activists and corporate interests, the issue of human trafficking was effectively redefined as “modern-day slavery” to better capture “all forced labor, trafficking, and slavery practices” and to appeal to key policymakers.
Engaging in CSA shouldn’t be a one-time opportunity for your company to be involved in. You must first be in tune with your brand and consider how being involved with social issues might impact your brand. Your company may find that a significant cultural shift may be needed, whereas other companies may find that their brand is already aligned with the causes they choose to now support. Regardless of which side your organization seems to be on, doing the bare minimum is no longer enough.
For more resources about how to support LGBTQIA+ rights and activism, see here:
- Europe & UK — Outvertising: https://www.outvertising.org/employer-guidance
- Americas — The Trevor Project: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/
- Asia Pacific — Asian Pride Project: http://asianprideproject.org/