Is Pride month just one, rainbow coloured example of businesses diversity washing? As businesses rush to adopt the Pride flag across their branding, I explore the concept of diversity washing in more detail and the potential impact for businesses paying lip service for the sake of appearances
As we enter the month of Pride, businesses and organisations across the land will be rushing to add rainbow flags to their branding, email signatures and shop fronts. An act that’s almost become expected when June comes around each year. However, what are they actually doing to support and raise awareness of the issues and barriers that are faced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBTQ+) people around the world?
While any action that helps raise awareness of the month of Pride is positive, it must run deeper than simply adding rainbow colours to your logo. Similarly any business’ efforts to become more sustainable and/or ethical should always be applauded. The more public rewards for a business able to demonstrate the presence of a moral compass are countless, including a positive public image, low cost publicity, being able to attract top talent and even winning coveted business contracts.
However, becoming more environmentally friendly, or creating a diverse and inclusive workplace can be challenging and it takes time and resources. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the terms greenwashing, diversity washing and even woke washing, are fast becoming commonplace tropes to describe the behaviour of unscrupulous businesses, presenting a false impression of their status as either sustainable or woke or ethnically diverse..
Derived from the term ‘whitewashing’ which means to cover up or gloss over negative aspects or facts, a very public recent example of diversity washing was Saudi Arabia’s attempt to sponsor the 2023 Women’s World Cup. A country synonymous with the suppression of women’s rights, that didn’t even have a national women’s football team until 2020, was rightly perceived as an exercise to merely attract tourism to the Gulf State. However, the resulting backlash from organisers and players meant FIFA was unsuccessful in its attempt to secure the deal.
Other examples include companies using stock photos of diverse employees in their marketing materials, without actually having a diverse workforce, or making a public statement in support of diversity without taking any concrete actions to address systemic inequalities within their organisation.
Any illusion of progress without any real change is dangerous. It undermines the efforts of genuine diversity and inclusion advocates. It can also be seen as a form of tokenism, in which a company hires a few individuals from underrepresented groups as a way of demonstrating their commitment to diversity, without actually addressing the underlying issues that prevent marginalised groups from thriving in the workplace.
An important question to answer is what is the impact of diversity washing on the business itself?
Loss of trust
Not just from customers and employees, but also other stakeholders who may see through the superficial attempts at inclusivity. Bearing in mind people are increasingly more aware of the importance of diversity and inclusion and can be easily recognised when a company is not making genuine efforts to promote it.
Reputation and brand damage
In the age of social media, word can quickly spread about a company’s lack of authenticity when it comes to diversity and inclusion, which can lead to negative reviews, boycotts, and other forms of public backlash.
Negatively impact employee morale and retention
When employees feel that their company is not genuinely committed to promoting diversity and inclusion, they may feel disengaged and less loyal to the company, which can lead to higher dissatisfaction levels and staff turnover rates.
In some extreme cases, companies are required by law to promote diversity and inclusion, and if they are found to be engaging in diversity washing, they may face legal penalties.
Outlining the benefits of diversity and inclusion for a business is a blog post on its own; however to put it simply, the more people of varied knowledge, talent, experiences and perspectives in your team, the richer your pool of talent.
In an article for HR Director CEO Leila Mackenzie Delis states that ‘diversity and inclusion must be recognised as a key commercial business driver’.
Therefore I’d like to propose that in addition to corporate businesses adorning their logos with Pride flags, that they also issue a publicly accessible charter that outlines exactly what they’ll be doing this month and in the future, to support their LGBTQ+ staff and colleagues, to enhance their voice and understanding of the difficulties they face, while celebrating the valuable contributions they make to their company.