The culture of the workplace underwent many dramatic and necessary changes from 2020 to now. As the need for social justice in the workplace became more and more difficult to ignore, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives were set in motion in attempts to address the issues. From that point on, DEI has grown and evolved immensely and as a result, many of the practices we engaged with in the previous years will no longer be relevant or productive in this new year. There are also some elements of the workplace culture that still need attention but unless we shed some of the habits we’ve gotten comfortable with in the past, those issues won’t get the attention they deserve. With this in mind, here are three workplace practices to leave in 2022, allowing for more growth and development in workplace culture and the state of DEI.
1. PERFORMATIVE ACTIVISM
Performative activism, or activism that is done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause, is easy to come by. Back in 2020, when DEI, as we recognize it today, began to really take off, the line between performative activism and genuine activism was very thin. While social media can be a great tool for change, it happened to be a sort of birthing place for performative activism. There were the obvious fit of performativity like #BlackOutTuesday where black screens were posted by the masses, showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement. While it provided a great opportunity to unfollow some people, it didn’t do much for the long term acceptance of DEI values. In the following months, we saw a collection of statements rolled out from companies, big and small, stating exactly where they stood on issues of social justice and the advancement of DEI. The statements often followed this general format: “Here at ______________, we stand with ____________ and condemn any and all forms of racism and discrimination”. In 2022, the same sort of approach was taken when a company, figurehead, or celebrity messed up in the public eye. A prewritten apology is dispersed and followed by a condemnation of the acts committed. Unfortunately, most of these statements weren’t backed with action and became more of a figurehead rather than a genuine move toward justice.
Beyond the Black Square
White hands holding an iphone that displays an instagram feed with a #blackouttuesday post (Mark Trowbridge/Getty Images)
“Years and years of damage cannot be undone with actionless commitments. That is what performative activism is, an actionless commitment. It creates the illusion that any activism is better than no activism, that any DEI is better than none.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
We may have moved past trendy hashtags and aesthetically pleasing, highly edited protest action shots but, performative activism permeates more spaces than social media. Performance activism can look like a company who has made the commitment to policy change and instituted the changes, but aren’t seeing a change in the culture of the company. Take for example how numerous companies verbally commit to a safe and supportive work environment for their female employees but still see a significant difference in the number of female employees versus the number of males. This creates an obvious gap between the environment the company claims to provide and the demographic makeup of the company, implying that the claim is likely actionless. There could be many explanations as to why this gap exists but it typically falls on performance. The examples are endless; having diversity at the entry level when the rest of the company appears homogeneous, failing to measure diversity, equity and inclusion progress after making a commitment, and closing off the office as a place of conversation for topics of race and racism are all indicators of performative DEI work.
What’s the harm? DEI aims for equity and inclusion for everyone. It aims to provide a path to mending the productions of years and years of oppression faced by numerous groups of people. Years and years of damage cannot be undone with actionless commitments. That is what performative activism is, an actionless commitment. It creates the illusion that any activism is better than no activism, that any DEI is better than none. It also produces the idea that we’ve come far enough, that real action isn’t necessary because we have already achieved equality, a claim that many people of color and other marginalized groups would strongly oppose. These attitudes end up setting marginalized groups back even further because it demands no substantial change. As we enter the third consecutive year with DEI in the corporate spotlight, there is no room for performance.
Everyone is capable of performing DEI, but we are also all capable of shifting from performance to a genuine commitment. Here are a few ways to initiate that shift:
- Post about an issue when it’s not trending
Like we discussed, social media is a powerful tool that can and should be used to advance DEI efforts. One way you can do so without being performative is by posting about a DEI related topic even when it’s not trending. To marginalized communities, these issues are ever-present and a genuine commitment to DEI recognizes and speaks to this fact.
- Amplify marginalized voices and communities, even when it’s not convenient
It’s easy to bring in diverse voices during the various International Day of (fill in the blank), but whose voices are you highlighting throughout the rest of the year? It’s important to make an effort to seek out and elevate the voices of marginalized peoples during these times but it’s arguably more important to seek out their voice when the rest of the world is quiet.
- Address the issue within the organization, not just on social media
Posts are great and spreading information to the masses is the beauty of social media but the conversations shouldn’t only exist online. Addressing these issues within the walls of the company is essential to shifting away from performative DEI.
- Get active in your communities
The smallest acts can inspire the biggest change and all of our communities could benefit from small acts. Getting familiar with your community puts action behind DEI.
2. “GET BACK TO THE OFFICE” ATTITUDES
Black male sitting at a table working on a laptop and writing in a notepad
The impact of remote work will be felt for years to come. This shift from the office to the office being at home proved to be a positive experience for millions of employees, namely, employees that belong to marginalized communities. For employees with disabilities, hybrid and at home work has improved not only working conditions but also their quality of life drastically. Take for example, Russell Rawlings. Rawlings originally had a commute of over three hours for a job that was two miles down the road until his position went fully remote. Since the pandemic began, employment of people with disabilities is up nearly 25% to more than 7.3 million workers last month. The jobless rate for disabled workers is typically in the double digits (12.3% two years ago) but dropped to 5.8% in November, the lowest rate since 2008. Workers with disabilities have seen significant improvements to their quality of life due to remote work, and they are not alone. Employees of color also feel more comfortable working from home as they feel less belonging in a typical work environment. 80% of black people, 78% of Latinx, and 77% of Asian employees wanted a flexible working experience, either through a hybrid or remote -only model. Overall, more than 60% of employees prefer hybrid work and yet, employers are beginning to hold a “get back to the office” attitude.
Employees who work from home find themselves to be 22% happier than workers in an onsite office and stay in their jobs longer During the height of the pandemic work from home period, productivity was up five percent.
As it has now been three years since employees were first launched into the at-home and hybrid workspace due to COVID, managers and executives are pushing their employees to return to the office this year. On September 6, 2022, Apple employees were required to return to the office at least three times a week. This “get back to the office” attitude comes from the assumption that the best and highest quality of work can only be produced in an office space. We know that many employees find a remote or hybrid working environment to be much more appealing than a typical office space, and therefore, much more conducive to their work style and habits. Employees who work from home find themselves to be 22% happier than workers in an onsite office and stay in their jobs longer During the height of the pandemic work from home period, productivity was up five percent. The impact of remote work is significant and mostly positive, so why force employees to return to the office? Whether there’s a valid reason or just the impact of societal standards and expectations surrounding the professional world, the get back to the office push should be done (or not done) with the best interest of the employees in mind. If it is absolutely necessary for your staff to be in office to do their work, including them in the conversation, asking them about their adherences, and consistently monitoring the impact of the change, if made, will all be essential for a smooth transition back into the office.
3. OFFICE DRESS CODES
Three creative Indian employees working together around a laptop in a modern office
The professional workspace usually requires its employees to maintain a certain look. This is often done through the implementation of a dress code. As professionals, we place a lot of value on our business attire. Getting a new job often means getting a new wardrobe but not all people feel the most comfortable and confident in the approved workplace dress codes and some are just downright exclusive. Not to mention the financial barriers a dress code can create as some employees simply can’t afford the dress code attire. The idea of professionalism itself can be seen as a production of whiteness and has been used to exclude certain marginalized groups from the office. For one of many examples, the idea of professionalism has justified the longstanding opposition to a black woman’s natural hair at work. As there are so many ways in which people identify, confining their work attire to satisfy a binary to which they don’t belong will likely result in a suppression of identity which can make it very difficult for an employee to feel safe at work. Once safety is threatened, productivity could decrease, burnout is more likely, and ultimately, the business suffers.
In order to avoid this, we should stop placing professional value on clothing and look only at the quality of work produced. Employees are people and people have personal styles that they should be allowed and encouraged to express. One way to do so is to encourage employees to dress for their success rather than the success of the company, allowing a bit of personal style to infiltrate the office. If you aren’t ready to ditch the dress code completely, at least consider reassessing some of the written and unwritten rules of the office pertaining to dress. Would people who wear durags, scarves, bandanas, or hijabs feel safe to do so in the workplace? Is traditional cultural attire looked down on? These are important questions to ask when reassessing the dress code in place. Once the evaluation is complete and decisions are made, be sure to communicate with your “at home” staff as well. Most importantly, talk to your staff and colleagues about their concerns and suggestions regarding appropriate work attire. Their input should be central to developing the new guidelines for workwear.
“Feeling liberated in the way that you present is just so important because it will also reflect how your mood is, whether you’re dragging yourself to work or you’re showing up as 100 percent yourself and you love it,” Mx. Copes (NYT)
Performative activism, forcing employees to return to the office, and office dress codes each stand in opposition to the growth and development of the workplace and its DEI practices. As we continue to grow and develop through 2023, let’s actively move past these things and continue to create equitable, inclusive and diverse workplaces.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kaya Hill is a marketing intern at DEI and You Consulting.
Her passion for DEI work lies in the many experiences she has had where DEI was clearly needed but never utilized.
She has received multiple awards and recognitions from her University for her writing and has presented research in numerous conferences. She hopes to continue in the field of DEI and eventually become a
Chief Diversity Officer of a law firm.
The importance and benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion are undeniable. Partner with DEI & You Consulting to unlock your company’s potential for all your employees to thrive.
Contact us today to learn more about our consulting services or our workshops: www.deiandyou.com
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