Every time June (Pride Month) arrives, many rebrand their logo to a “rainbow” version as if it were a competition. But is this practice really effective for your image? And, where it is more important, Does this really help the LGBTQIA+ community? Let’s answer the question and reflect on that for a second.
Being diverse is not just a brand whim. As we have evolved as a society, we discover how the world is full of inequalities.
Today, many organizations and countries are working to reduce these problems. It is no coincidence that the United Nations (UN) has chosen gender equality and the reduction of inequality as one of the new goals for sustainable development.
When we talk about the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community, representation in the media is something very common today. Consequently, brands may be required to reflect this reality in their communication. You know, everyone wants to be “in style”.
However, these intentions to appear or appear more “diverse” or “inclusive” can fall into superficiality and even simplify the difficulties. When this phenomenon occurs, the LGBTQIA+ community calls it “Rainbow Washing” or “Pink Washing”, a topic that companies should avoid.
Think about it. Why do brands choose to present themselves as diverse?
Younger generations are more aware of some of the world’s problems. Consequently, they are more willing to support more altruistic causes. And this is how diversity and inclusion have become one of the main interests of these new generations. For example, according to Deloitte, 83% of millennials are more engaged when they believe their company fosters an inclusive culture.
In fact, decision-makers in large companies seek to train to meet the expectations of the general public. Sometimes they make a good approach and sometimes they don’t.
For example, in a survey conducted by Adobe, 38% of respondents said they were more likely to purchase products and services from brands that displayed diversity in their ads. Additionally, 34% have boycotted a company at least once because they don’t feel their identities are represented in the companies’ actions.
Likewise, it is important to know that being inclusive has become something that has a positive impact on companies. According to McKinsey, companies in the top quartile of gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median. Companies in the top quartile of racial/ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.
The growth of the Rainbow Washing.
First, let’s get to know what Rainbow Washing is. We perform the translation of the ThisIsGendered definition:
1. The act of using or adding rainbow colors and/or images to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks, etc., to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ+ equality (and gain consumer credibility), but with a minimum of pragmatic effort or result.
// Similar to Green Wash “green washing” regarding environmental justice issues and the “Pink Wash” regarding breast cancer/LGBTQ+ rights.
In this line of ideas, it is easy to see how a large number of brands make changes to their logo during Pride month.
However, the decision to alter brand resources is not made at random. In theory, changing core brand devices can help people register the traditional logo more easily.
But when everyone does it, all the time, often for the same reason and for exactly the same period, is the effect still that impressive? Will anyone pick it up, since every other brand has the same shade of rainbow?
An example of rainbow washing
A controversial case of Rainbow Washing happened with Barilla, a multinational food company. It all started way back in 2013 when CEO Guido Barilla said in a live interview that he would never do a commercial with a gay family. Obviously, the comment caused worldwide outrage, generating the hashtag #boycotbarilla.
The crisis was a catalyst for Diversity and Inclusion talk, and it took almost five years to clean up the company’s reputation. However, the criticism from the LGBTQIA+ community is still there. Barilla continued to be accused of Lavado Rosa. Based on her CEO’s homophobic comments, she adds a rainbow to the pack which is not enough to show solidarity with the community.
This cautionary tale teaches us that if we really want to ride the “LGBTQIA+ friendly wave” we have to make sure we do it with the right attempts.
diversity done right
Also, we can still see some good examples of how to be truly diverse. Adobe has launched an initiative that spans its own company culture, hiring diverse talent from a wide variety of backgrounds. They also participate in forums, conferences and donate to fundraising activities.
One of its biggest initiatives was the Adobe For All Summit launched in 2019. The focus of the event was to share best practices and updates on diversity and inclusion strategic progress.
The elections: before carrying any flag, you first need cohesion within your company through tangible actions, creating a culture between all levels of your organization.
Other forms of color washing
The issue doesn’t just apply to Pride month. There are other Color Washing besides Rainbow Washing.
First, Color Washing is heard as a general term for the practice of profit-driven corporations to misleadingly communicate unsubstantiated values in products and services in order to better attract and market them to socially and environmentally conscious consumers, as defined in column from The Sustainable Fashion Matterz.
With this order of ideas, we can establish the main forms of Color Washing.
It is widely used on LGBTQIA+ occasions. However, it can also be related to female empowerment, where it promotes a feminist facade while having exploitative or unequal wages towards women.
This speaks to delivering misleading messages about sustainability practices. It occurs when a brand calls itself “eco-friendly” but still fails to be sustainable in its processes.
This phenomenon was very common during the Black Lives Matter debate during 2020. It happens a lot when a company seems to support this community but does not implement internal practices to empower them.
It is when a brand is somehow related to a tragedy and does not take responsibility for what happened. An example of this is what happened at Rana Plaza Collapse, where the building collapsed due to a series of administrative and engineering issues. The tragedy reflected the importance of the restructuring of the Fashion Industry. Criticism arose when, even years after the tragedy, the retailers involved failed to compensate the victims and their families, or take steps to improve workplace infrastructure.
What are we doing at Rock Content to avoid falling into Color Washing?
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) have always been part of Rock Content’s values since 2013, when we were founded. In 2019 we officially structured our areas of Social Impact and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
At Rock Content, we treat the uniqueness of each person with due fairness and respect, listening carefully to all voices and acting to transform realities beyond our employees and consumers.
For us, social impact means being aware of underrepresented groups that are in positions of social and economic vulnerability, with a focus on gender, race, disability, and affective-sexual orientation, among others.
it is possible through the promotion of education, enabling inclusion in the market and ensuring fairness in business. With these initiatives, we promote more employability opportunities and also socioeconomic growth.
In 2021, Rock Content impacted 20,000 people, donated by Rock University to underrepresented groups. Today, 52.8% of the Rock Content team is made up of women, and 49% of leadership positions are held by women.
In the same year, Rock Content took another important step in accelerating social change. Through Pledge 1%, Rock Content commits to donating 1% of share capital to education and employability initiatives and projects.
Avoid Color Washing
So, with all of Rock Content’s knowledge of how to really promote social change, here are some practices we can share to help you avoid color washing:
Be an ally every day. It’s fine if you want to do something special for these dates, but don’t forget to show commitment 365 days a year.
Support education and opportunities for all. Showing solidarity through fundraising is also a plus.
Focus on giving space to those minima. Create opportunities for them to grow within the company and improve their career.
Be consistent between your public image and your internal processes.
The lesson is very simple: It’s no use adapting a flag when you don’t understand the nuances of what you’re defending. If giving good visibility to those decreases is an idea, the change has to start from within. This is how you can effectively support a movement and go beyond what is “in”.