Visable 360
The B2B magazine for digital sales
Visable 360
The B2B magazine for digital sales
Tips & strategies20. April 2023

Rainbow washing: marketing strategy with the rainbow flag

Diversity management is an important factor within company cultures. But not everywhere where the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ+ movement waves is tolerance actually lived in the company – and the public quickly exposes such rainbow washing. Find out here how you can implement diversity in a genuine and credible way.

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Rainbow washing: definition

Every June, the LGBTQIA+ community celebrates Pride Month. One of their symbols is the rainbow flag, which many companies also use to showcase their diversity. They expect to gain attention and a positive image in the public eye, which is good and appropriate. But only if the solidarity is genuine and the company itself encourages an open culture.

But if it is only a marketing gag for the public, you are rainbow washing and simply showcasing a false label. As diversity becomes an ever more important topic in society and can very well support a company’s image, it becomes very tempting to practise rainbow washing. But if you do not take diversity seriously, you will quickly be found out and lose trust. This effect is known from the area of sustainability, where talk is of greenwashing.

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Rainbow washing vs. True diversity

The conventional rainbow flag is the symbol of gender diversity and an open-minded society – and many companies share their own supportive stance on this issue. To communicate this to the public, they may combine their brand logo and the colours of the rainbow. But it is not always the case that their convictions are genuine and also felt within the company. On the contrary: lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and binary as well as queer persons continue to not enjoy the same opportunities in many companies that other persons do – despite the colourful logo.

When tolerance and an open mind are simply boasted about for image purposes and not lived as part of the company culture, then talk is of rainbow washing. In these cases, diversity and appreciation are not actually practised in the workplace. The danger of this: posts from employees on social media and employer review websites quickly bring such shortcomings to light. Rainbow washing can then easily turn into a marketing and image disaster.

In contrast, LGBTIQ+-friendly companies step up for diversity in their workforce – creating a climate without discrimination and harassment. This not only makes a good impression towards the public and improves the brand’s image – it also supports the company as a good employer, not just amongst queer persons. For this reason, genuine diversity at the workplace is a good way counteract the effects of the labour shortage.

What’s more, companies acting in an ethical and sustainable way are more profitable than others in the long term. Scandinavian scientists have found this out in a study, for which they examined the financial development of 657 companies between the years 2003 and 2016.

There may be reasons for the fact that nearly 80 German companies have applied for a top position in the PRIDE Index 2022 (German). Here is where employers are listed who clearly signal their appreciation for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans and binary persons as well as queer employees (LGBTIQ+), and who show what is possible within the field of LGBTIQ+ diversity management.

Particularly commendable medium-sized enterprises were the consultancy agencies AlixPartners and Campana & Schott, the games developer Wooga, the music company BMG Rights Management, and the PR agency Ketchum.

All or nothing: how diverse company cultures work

Simply by adorning your own logo with the rainbow colours for Pride Month does not make your company a credible example of gender diversity. If you would like to build up the required company culture, you must do more than that to avoid giving the impression of rainbow washing. For in-company initiatives with the aim of diversity, this may mean pushing through your own convictions and breaking barriers amongst the upper management and staff members.

Your ambitions for more diversity can be successful by following these tips:

  • Information about LGBTIQ+ has to be thoroughly communicated to everyone within the company (discussions, brochures, intranet, etc.).
  • Reservations should be taken seriously and talked about.
  • The implementation requires a clear yet flexible strategy, as not all forms of resistance are foreseeable.
  • The handling of the topic has to be open, but also protected and confidential.

The implementation can be complex and run over a long period of time. Via marketing on various channels, the public can be informed of the process and kept up to date regarding its success.

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