Good corporate allyship is vital to employees, customers, the community, and the improvement of social equity. Brands command substantial visibility, affinity, and influence, and their actions can therefore have a distinct impact on the mental health of all involved. However, when corporate allyship is performative rather than substantive, it can feel downright exploitative. There are plenty of pitfalls in attempting allyship because lip service statements & surface-level engagements don’t change lives or shift perspectives.
I know it’s pride month when I am absolutely inundated with rainbows across all the company logos I see. Marketing is flush with pride–literally. But companies typically have those on a timer, set to return to normal (along with the rest of their advertising) when the clock strikes 12 am on July 1. This is similar to how other holidays and honorary months are treated, temporary and fleeting–an image of what they support during the allotted time. It’s hard to know whether these images and lists represent real commitments that support groups throughout the year, or are simply designed to show lip service for the short period each year. It’s nice as a queer person to be able to know which companies support people like me; it helps me vote with my wallet. When the visibility vanishes, it leaves me to wonder whether the commitment has also disappeared. Companies often see that honorary months and holidays occur and know they should take a stand on matters in support of inclusion and diversity. Large organizations and companies in particular have a lot of influence, visibility, and reach when they are successful. When companies have this kind of reach, they have a responsibility to use it well. There are plenty of reasons why companies choose to simply integrate the holidays into their marketing, but it’s not enough, and it may actually do more harm than good.
Offering substantive allyship to employees and communities means matching actions to the marketing efforts, and making real progress towards changing the experience of underrepresented groups who work at, and buy from, your company. We can do this by providing job opportunities, shifting pay disparities, offering training, and providing philanthropic donations to organizations making efforts to change the inequalities of the world. When companies engage in real allyship, it can improve the mental health and well-being of countless individuals by increasing their sense of value and belonging, and by making their actual interactions with your company substantively better.
There is a big difference between that and performative allyship, which amounts to profiting off slapping a rainbow on marketing plans for the month of June. This article hopefully represents a simple blueprint for how to do allyship right, and where to start. In brief, you start by uplifting the communities and people you highlight by prioritizing inclusion and accountability.
Performance vs. Inclusion
At its roots, the concept of inclusion in the workplace is vital to healthy employees and a healthy company. The problem is that lip service doesn’t help heal the problems created by privilege and systemic oppression. Performative allyship can take a lot of forms. Some examples include:
- Discussing the importance of diversity, inclusion, and uplifting all voices without addressing the demographic makeup of leadership or staff.
- Inclusive logos and advertisements but using outdated and invalidating categories on a staff survey or patient intake form (i.e., providing only male or female options in the demographics section and neglecting questions about sexual identity, neutral language about partners, or pronouns and preferred names).
- Profits gained by honoring holidays are kept by the company, and do not get invested— in whole or in part—into advocacy or support organizations and causes.
- Grand statements of support juxtaposed against inaction or silencing in the face of reports about mistreatment, harassment, or preferential treatment. Often, this is–intentional or not–a continuation of the power differential between the oppressed person and the person or people in privileged positions. This topic is of particular relevance in games right now, with the industry facing a reckoning about sexual harassment and abuse.
Making Allyship Meaningful
Don’t get me wrong–I think it’s lovely and important that companies are willing to put rainbows on their marketing plans because it means that they are taking a stand on an important matter of equality. What is important after that? Put your money and choices where your marketing is. Here are some ways to do so.
– Hire diversity. I can’t put it more simply than that. When we have diverse workforces–as in, an employee pool with varying levels of disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicities, backgrounds, and beyond–we have healthier workforces.
– Uplift diversity. Incorporate diverse voices into your business decisions. Invite a variety of staff to all levels of meetings, devolve decision making, and make it a habit to incorporate new ideas. Incorporate KPIs related to inclusion, diversity, and equity a key part of performance reviews. Offer opportunities for diverse teammates to attend trainings and professional development. Compensate people fairly, at every level, and maintain transparency about hiring, compensation, and promotion. All of these habits and practices have been shown to improve products and performance.
– Host events that highlight diversity. Whether internal or external, hosting events like D&I trainings or community gatherings will further the point that you support the communities you highlight. It also offers you the opportunity as companies to engage with the communities, people, and ideas on a deeper level. Learning and growing are key parts of active change towards equality. BUT. Be thoughtful around who, what, and how events will highlight the communities you honor, and invite individuals from those communities to help you plan them. It is easy to fall into cultural appropriation and stereotypes; this works against your interests and efforts.
– Donate. For companies that profit off of events or marketing strategies that highlight particular movements and holidays, this is vital. Any company should consider donations. This shows that not only are you willing to name an issue, you are willing to back up the movement towards active change. In games, some publishers have also committed to funding studios and games made by people from underrepresented groups or leaders.
– Listen and act. When members of a community tell you, as a company or employee, that your company is making mistakes about something, it can be difficult to hear, and even harder to change. Feedback is incredibly important as an aspect of how to improve, and defensive behavior is never becoming. Actively seek feedback from people inside and outside of your company, especially on matters of inclusivity and diversity, and then be forthright and open about how you will be accountable to addressing the problems that have been highlighted.
– Never stop. This is arguably the most important point made in this article. Inclusion is an ongoing battle. Oppression of the groups we highlight in holidays is systemic, long-standing, and difficult to dismantle. It will take companies of all shapes and sizes to challenge the current privileges held to truly improve the workplace.
Companies have so much power to make a difference. By making changes at an organizational level, they can improve the lives of all of their employees. Take This currently offers training and workshop engagements, in partnership with the Games Hotline, that can help transform company approaches from performative to substantive.