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IACM 2023

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“It’s All For Show”: Performative Allyship As Saying One Thing But Doing Nothing

The current research calls into question the universal benefits of allyship and investigates the pitfalls of allyship. I break new ground by proposing performative allyship, in which organizational leaders publicly tout their solidarity with equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) issues but withhold actual support (i.e., “saying one thing but doing nothing”), as a common allyship phenomenon with important implications for individual and organizational outcomes. Eight preregistered studies using recall, scenarios, behavioral games, and qualitative questions reveal that populations facing disadvantages from race, gender, sexual orientation, or indigenous status evaluate leaders who exhibit performative allyship as being hypocritical, self-serving, and image-managing through sending false signals about their moral virtues. Specifically, performative allies are judged even more negatively than those who disregard allyship and consistently show no ally actions. The negative evaluations lead to lower perceptions of the organization’s diversity climate and higher minority turnover. On a positive side, attributing performative allyship as hypocrisy ignites moral outrage, and therefore motivates marginalized employees to advocate for social change, representing a silver lining to this dark side allyship phenomenon. This research contributes to false signaling theory and the allyship literature, with profound practical implications for organizational EDI practice.

Hsuan-Che (Brad) Huang
Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia


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