Floorish Newsletter 🧼 Diversity Washing

Welcome to the third edition of the Floorish newsletter dedicated to providing you with insightful data, ideas and views on diversity, equity and inclusion. In this newsletter, taking no more than 3 minutes of your time, I aim to keep you informed and inspired with thought-provoking content, practical tips and inspiring stories.

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In conversations with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) managers, a recurring concern emerges: their roles are often perceived as mere box-checking exercises by others. This perspective can result in what is known as “diversity washing”, where organisations give the appearance of promoting DEI without genuinely addressing underlying systemic issues or implementing meaningful changes.

Authentic DEI entails more than superficial representation; they necessitate organisations to confront and rectify systemic biases. I’ll dive into several concepts that encapsulate different aspects of the superficial approaches taken by some organisations.

  • Diversity washing: Diversity washing refers to the act of presenting an organisation as diverse and inclusive through marketing, branding, or public relations efforts, while not genuinely supporting or implementing inclusive practices within the organisation. It involves using diversity as a PR tool rather than making meaningful changes.
  • Performative allyship: Performative allyship refers to publicly expressing support for marginalised groups or causes without taking substantial action or engaging in meaningful allyship. It involves surface-level gestures, such as sharing social media posts, but not actively working to address the root causes of discrimination.
  • Diversity tokenism: This occurs when an organisation showcases a few individuals from underrepresented groups to give the impression of diversity, while the overall structure and culture of the organisation remain exclusionary.
  • Cosmetic diversity: Cosmetic diversity refers to the practice of creating a superficial appearance of diversity through imagery or marketing materials without making substantive changes. This can involve using diverse models in advertisements or showcasing diversity in promotional materials.
  • Box-ticking diversity: Box-ticking diversity refers to a superficial approach to DEI where organisations focus solely on meeting numerical quotas or diversity targets without addressing underlying biases or creating an inclusive culture.
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1. McDonald’s performative allyship

In 2020, amidst the global outcry against racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd, McDonald’s released a statement expressing solidarity with the black community and condemning racism. However, the company faced criticism for its alleged contradictory actions. Employees and activists pointed out that McDonald’s had a history of racial discrimination in its workplace, including discriminatory practices in hiring, promotion and treatment of black employees. Critics argued that McDonald’s was engaging in performative allyship by issuing statements of support while failing to address the systemic issues of racial discrimination within its own organisation.

2. Israeli army’s pinkwashing

In 2016 the Israeli army shared a photo with two male soldiers, openly identifying as gay, embracing and kissing while wearing their military uniforms. The army’s decision to share this photo was seen as an effort to showcase its commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion and equality, presenting a progressive image of the military. Critics argue that by highlighting LGBTQ+ soldiers, the military tried to present itself as a beacon of tolerance and inclusion, without genuinely advocating or supporting the community.

3. Academy Awards’ tokenism

In 2016 the Oscars received criticism for the lack of diversity in nominations. The controversy stemmed from all 20 acting category nominees being white for the second consecutive year, despite the existence of highly praised performances by actors from diverse backgrounds. This highlighted the pattern of marginalised actors being recognized sporadically instead of consistently and equally. The incident prompted conversations and calls emphasising the need for systemic change rather than tokenistic gestures.

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Addressing diversity washing practices and promoting genuine DEI is an ongoing effort that requires collective action and a commitment to holding individuals, organisations and systems accountable. As an individual, there are several actions you can take to address and challenge the various forms of diversity washing.

1. Advocate for change

Engage in allyship by actively listening to marginalised communities, supporting their empowerment and taking actions that contribute to their inclusion. Move beyond passive support and engage in meaningful action. Advocate for policies and practices that promote equity and challenge systemic inequalities.

2. Demand accountability

Hold organisations accountable for their claims of DEI by demanding transparency in reporting, concrete action plans, measurement and accountability, employee feedback, external validation and audits and utilising consumer and stakeholder influence.

3. Vote with your wallet

Support organisations that align with your values and demonstrate a genuine commitment to DEI. Conversely, consider withholding your support from organisations that engage in diversity washing practices and make informed choices about where you spend your money.

I hope these insights have sparked your curiosity and I invite you to share any data, ideas or views you believe should be highlighted in future newsletters. Stay tuned for the next edition.

Warm regards,

Floor Martens

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