How to Recognize Performative Diversity

Does your workplace or your university actively engage in diversity initiatives? Have you ever wondered if these are genuine efforts to increase diversity, equality and inclusion or just performative acts to make the institution look good? Continue reading to find out more about how to recognize performative diversity. 

What is Performative Diversity?

Performative diversity is used to convey a commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI). However, in doing so it neglects to assign a policy, actions, or persons designated to bring about racial equity. Performatives are ritual social practices that are enacted over time to avoid potential litigation or scrutiny from consumers or stakeholders (definition adapted from Presidio Graduate School).

In simple terms:

Performative diversity occurs when an organisation or person advocates for diversity, equality, and inclusion, but no practical actions are undertaken to actively contribute to their achievement. 

You have already heard of the term “greenwashing” often used in relation to corporate social responsibility initiatives. Similarly, Harvard Business Review refers to ‘woke-woshing’ in relation to topics of DEI.

Picture on performative diversity. People sitting in a dark room.
Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

Things that could allude to the practice of performative diversity:

  1. Declaring commitment to DEI topics on social media, but only in current contexts p.ex. incidents such as the death of Geroge Floyd
  2. No diversity in the staff of an organisation
  3. No diversity in the management team, board of directors or other decision-making functions
  4. Homogenous DEI teams
  5. Only supporting big or popular DEI movements
  6. Avoiding of direct confrontation with and discussion about DEI topics
  7. Limiting DEI to racial equality and people with visible disabilities
  8. Not acknowledging the diversity of experiences with racism and discrimination
  9. Showing no regard for systemic racism and discrimination 
  10. Specifically asking minority employees to be in pictures or on corporate websites to portray a certain image
  11. No DEI unit at all 
  12. Continuing to work with brands or people known for racist/ discriminatory actions 
  13. No adequate consequences if racist or discriminatory behavior is reported
  14. Gossiping about co-workers or other people’s preference in sexual partners 
  15. More diversity on ads than in the institution
  16. No mentioning of age as relevant diversity factor i.e. meetings on diversity only compromise people aged 40+
  17. Selling products that are not inclusive or even based on prejudice 
  18. Non-heterogenous group of people advising company on matters related to DEI 
  19. Websites or panel of judges for p.ex. an event consisting in majority of people from a homogenous group
  20. Only one of every minority particularly associated with DEI present, i.e. 1 Black person, 1 Asian person, 1 obviously disabled person and so on…

There you have it, a rather long list of signs that the DEI actions you are seeing might only be performative. Of course, if you notice one of these signs it doesn’t necessarily mean that the diversity you are witnessing is only performative.

However, this list can give you an indication of what to look out for. Generally, it always important to keep in mind the context of a situation and to listen to your gut feeling. Performative diversity is a significant issue and awareness of this is one way of tackling it.

If you’re interested in learning more about performative diversity in practice, click here. If you’re interested in reading more about the effects of performative diversity at work, check out this blogpost on the story of Eila.

If you’re interested in more university-related content, click here.

See you soon,

Hannah

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