Performative Allyship Is Out. Here’s How Leaders Can Actually Embrace Inclusion and Diversity


Diversity and inclusion. As we progress in understanding, challenging the norms, fighting prejudice, and embracing differences, these terms have come to the forefront of the world’s consciousness. So, what exactly are diversity and inclusion? Can they be used interchangeably? And what is – and is not – celebratory of these differences? Read on to find out.


What Are the Definitions of Diversity and Inclusion?

Global Diversity Practice explains that diversity is “any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people.” To summarize: diversity “is about empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different.” Age, disability, race, and religion are examples of these differences

Diversity emphasizes valuing differences rather than tolerating them. Every person brings unique experiences and perspectives to the table, and it’s important to recognize and celebrate these differences. 

Global Diversity Practice defines inclusion as “a sense of belonging. Inclusive cultures make people feel respected and valued for who they are as an individual or group.” While age, disability, and race are self-evident differences, “they could be more inherent,” with differences in education, skill sets, and personality traits — think introverts versus extraverts.

Companies Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion

While there is still a long way to go with the world embracing those of all colors, shapes, sizes, religions, educations, and cultures, there are many companies who are upping their diversity and inclusion game

One brand is Milk makeup. As of 2020, based on 47 employees, BIPOC made up 29% of the company’s employees. Positions held by BIPOC include Vice President, Director, and Manager. When it came to gender diversity, two percent identified as gender fluid – in June 2020, based on 45 employees, there were no gender fluid individuals. Milk’s social feeds are also diverse; more than 50% of their models in photos and videos on social media were BIPOC.

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Another popular company celebrating diversity: Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty. Check their About page, and the first statement is bold: “Savage X Fenty celebrates fearlessness, confidence, and inclusivity.” Models on the website are of all races and sizes, exuding sensuality and beauty in the brand’s gorgeous lingerie. They also have included disabled models in their fashion shows. You won’t find that at Victoria’s Secret. (We wrote an article on their controversy.)

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Companies’ Faux Anti-Racism

While many brands are welcoming diversity with open arms, some companies aren’t genuine allies; rather, they’re afraid of being accused of racism, homophobia, and exclusivity, so they use the words “inclusion” and “diversity” without walking the walk. McKenna Kelly, of Swaay, commented on this, explaining that “going with the flow when it comes to activism all because you are afraid of being called a racist or ignorant, is you actually being unable to truly understand and acknowledge problems.”

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In a Medium article by Rod T. Faulkner, Crossfit and Starbucks were both called out by employees for their behind-the-scenes racism. Crossfit’s former CEO, in a recording of a Zoom meeting, asked “can you tell me why I should mourn for [George Floyd]? Other than that it’s the white thing to do.” He resigned almost immediately. And Starbucks was in hot water for banning employees from wearing “Black Lives Matter” pins to work. Starbucks explained that they don’t allow political or religious advocating – but they allowed LGBTQ+ pins. (They eventually reversed the ban on Black Lives Matter attire following backlash.)

In an article on performative allyship, Carmen Morris reached out to Collette Phillip, an anti-racism advocate and the Managing Director of Brand By Me, explaining that companies “need to make it part of your brand, part of who you are, what you stand for, and how you do things. … It is about embedding anti-racism so that it becomes part of your identity.

Celebrities’ Performative Allyship

It’s not just companies, either. This performative allyship is embarrassing, especially when these “allies” are called out. Ellen was eviscerated following a tweet about how “for things to change, things must change” – a cliché statement to publicly declare she was not racist. And then there were models including Kendall Jenner, posting the “Black Lives Matter” chain (an almost funny performative action based on Jenner’s Pepsi commercial regarding police brutality).

Another example: a white makeup artist posted a photo of the words George Floyd called out, along with the words “Black Lives Matter” painted across her face. The problem: she darkened parts of her face and added red makeup to imitate blood. The internet was swift in calling her out on her performative allyship.

There’s also queerbaiting. Ariana Grande was accused of this allyship when she ended her music video for “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” with her appearing to kiss a fellow woman. J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter author who has claimed to be an LGBTQ+ ally, recently was a “victim” (I say this in quotes, because it was, in my opinion, deserved) of cancel-culture for her anti-transgender comments – despite queerbaiting by claiming Dumbledore was gay and in a relationship with another character. (There was no evidence of this in her books when she claimed this.)

How Leaders Can Support Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

The first way companies and those in leadership positions can support inclusion and diversity: listening to their minority employees. Their HR departments should be ready to deal with any reports of discrimination – and then genuinely get to the bottom of the claims, rather than write employees off.

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Another way leaders can make sure they’re actively championing inclusion efforts: by creating an Inclusion and Diversity committee, made up of a group of leaders who can provide insight and support to a company through lived experiences. Note: it is not the committee’s responsibility to teach a company what is and is not anti-ally – leaders and employees should have their own external trainings. 

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Finally, leaders should be ready to learn. It may be uncomfortable and awkward, but the only way to understand is by hearing different points of view and facing any privilege they may have. Discrimination is not always conscious, and it is important to regularly hold leaders accountable and educate them on their mistakes. This does not just mean supervisors and CEOs – we must also hold public figures accountable, too.

It is crucial to talk about diversity and inclusion, as well as recognize discrimination and privilege. The only way we can become genuine allies is by listening – so open your ears, do your own research, and actively practice non-performative allyship


Have you experienced performative allyship firsthand? How do you handle exclusivity? Let us know in the comments.

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