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Going Beyond Performative Activism

Kayla DiPilato

Just a few weeks ago, social media was flooded with black squares. Companies large and small were quick to post statements about how they were going to tackle racism. These well-written statements pulled were full of emotion. But have companies really made the changes to back it up? Performative activism is defined by Latham Thomas as “allyship that only serves at the surface level to platform the ‘ally,’ [that] makes a statement but doesn’t go beneath the surface and is not aimed at breaking away from the systems of power that oppress.” If a company chooses to post about #BlackLivesMatter while continuing to discriminate against Black people, they are simply exploiting an important movement for their own financial gain. Companies need to do more in order to excel past performative allyship to make real, systemic change.

Maelle Gavet, the author of the forthcoming book "Trampled by Unicorns: Big Tech's Empathy Problem and How to Fix It," notes that companies can't keep relying on the same old tactics if we want real, substantive change. Companies need to ask questions about their values, their intentions and their methods. This will help companies create lasting change that will permeate through the entire organization.

In order to come across as authentic, it is not enough to speak up when it is trending to do so. Companies need to have a consistent record of speaking up about issues. Of course, it's never too late to make a positive change, but you will need to convince your customers that this is not just a moment for your company. Commit to continuing to speak up and do not rely on things dying down in the media so that you can move on. This type of consistent, authentic activity is going to be easier when your company is truly aligned with the values you are presenting at its core. Eliminating hypocrisy and addressing intersectionality when discussing social issues is also critical in maintaining your authenticity.

Customers do not just want to hear what you are going to do, they want to be able to make sure these changes actually took place and have measurable outcomes. They are not going to be satisfied with one time donations or promises to educate yourself. Tackling systems of oppression require deeper change such as new internal policies and expanded social responsibility initiatives. The best way to remain accountable is to state clearly what changes you are going to implement and how they will be measured and then report out when they are complete. 

Companies are also being asked to put their money where their mouth is. Whether it be donating to related causes, providing fair pay, or improving your supply chain to be more ethical, customers realize that companies profit from this type of mission-based marketing and they want to see investments into solutions. 

Companies need to go beyond performative activism. Here at Kuvio we are still constantly looking for new ways to hold ourselves accountable and increase diversity in the tech industry. Have you implemented an initiative that you’re proud of? Let us know on Twitter, @KuvioCreative

Kuvio Creative is an innovative web design company and development agency that partners with our clients to find creative solutions to their biggest digital challenges. www.kuv.io

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