Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines Performative as “made or done for show (as to bolster one’s own image or make a positive impression on others).” This is what the word means as it relates to disapproving, self-serving actions.
At the crux of events after the George Floyd murder in 2020, several actors in the United States responded in ways that did not move policy or legislation but were assumed to appease the heightened emotions of Black people across the globe. The referenced actions were described as performative, moves that seemed to speak to culture without addressing the root cause of what was happening.
One of the most pervasive actions stemming from that year was that companies across several industries made statements about justice and equity while flooding job sites with new roles that support diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives (DEI).
Persons hired to manage and lead DEI departments were tasked with providing internal and external-facing solutions. They were also there to ensure organizations created cultures and organizational policies that were inclusive and equitable.
The problem? Many people who entered these roles didn’t have the chance to foster change in the ways they imagined. In fact, several of them no longer have those jobs, and the DEI role they once occupied no longer exists.
According to an NBC report, there was a 55 percent increase in DEI-related roles after Floyd’s murder. However, professionals that were a part of that increase are losing their jobs with the uncertainty of the job market.
Revelio Labs published a jobs report that showed the trend in layoffs for DEI professionals, with Amazon, Applebees, and Twitter laying off the most DEI professionals since July 2022.
In a conversation with NBC News, Revelio Labs senior economist Reyhan Ayas noted that the data gathered for its report showed the DEI hires were more performative than “genuine.”
“I always say that it is so easy to make public statements and commitments because no one will eventually check if you’re committed to the things that you committed to,” Ayas said. “I can say: ‘I will be fully vegan by 2025’ because no one will ever call me in 2025 and ask me if I’m actually fully vegan. And that’s really what is going on here. In 2020, a lot of companies made big commitments, big statements around the DEI roles and goals. And, as we are observing a turning of that tide, I think it’s very timely that we actually look into companies to see if they have kept up with those big statements they made.”
The 2023 report showed that 40 percent of layoffs at surveyed organizations were DEI compared to 24 percent for non-DEI roles.
“Most of your diversity professionals at these companies report to human resources, which are headed by white women and, in some cases, white men,” said Chris Metzler, Senior Vice President of Corporate DEI and Environmental, Social, and Governance Strategies at the National Urban League. “So, it doesn’t surprise me that Black diversity officers are being moved out.”
Even with the influx of hiring, many companies hired non-Black professionals to fill these roles, adding to the nuanced nature of the layoffs that mainly consist of Black people.
The outlet also reports another survey showed that Black employees make up only 3.8% of chief diversity officers. White people, however, make up 76.1% of the roles. Then there are Hispanics or Latinos, which account for 7.8%, and those of Asian descent, which account for 7.7%.
“It’s increasingly becoming a dead-end job. Corporations are saying one thing and demonstrating something else. It’s going back to checking the box versus hiring and keeping qualified workers who can impact change in the company,” Metzler said, according to NBC.