As corporate social responsibility stewards with a diverse team, we work toward justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion because it’s the right thing to do. That said, it can be tricky for companies to communicate values in a way that feels authentic to their community. This misstep is especially apparent during LGBTQ+ Pride Month as companies debut colorful rebranding and rainbow-themed products. The rise of rainbow washing has left some skeptical of brands that appear to be capitalizing on the LGBTQ+ community, often fumbling Pride messaging or simply miscommunicating values.

Nevertheless, we aren’t going to claim that we’re the end-all-be-all of Pride Month messaging or seek to shame others for flubbing. In an effort to help us all do better, we decided to share a few ways our team avoids rainbow washing during Pride Month. But first, a brief definition. 

What is Rainbow Washing? 

Rainbow washing is a marketing tactic some brands use to capitalize on performative activism. It involves commodifying their support for the LGBTQ+ community, which we generally see during Pride Month. For example, this could mean adding rainbow colors or the brand’s logo or merchandise during the month of June.  

The problem isn’t the messaging itself, but the intent of it. Rainbow washing often results in clumsy marketing deprived of meaningful action and genuine commitment to the supported cause that disappears after June. 

Again, the point of our article isn’t to shame or call out those who made performative actions intentionally or otherwise. Instead, the goal is to share meaningful ways to show up in a powerful way for the LGBTQ+ community.

1. Involve Your Team: Think Like a JEDI  

Incorporating JEDI values creates room to amplify marginalized voices in professional spaces.Representation in the workplace allows marginalized or underrepresented groups to see themselves and their experiences reflected, promoting a sense of belonging, acceptance, and empowerment.

Involving team members from the LGBTQ+ community is vital to the well-being of employees and the success of your team.

In part, that’s why it’s so important to assemble a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) team or adopt a JEDI philosophy. Incorporating JEDI values creates room to amplify marginalized voices in professional spaces. 

We recommend fielding a company-wide request for participation or assembling a JEDI team of passionate people in the LGBTQ+ community and trained allies that want to offer support. Therefore, the first step is to form a cohort that is able to communicate why elevating diverse voices is important to the company—and the community.

At Mad Fish, we’re in good company. Our team is comprised of LGBTQ+ community members and allies. Everyone is eager to support and amplify voices in the LGBTQ+ community and is committed to developing and implementing company-wide initiatives that create meaningful change internally and externally. The more team members you can involve, the more comprehensive and meaningful the change you enact becomes when it’s reflective of your team and their individual experiences.  

2. Take Pride in Your Statement and Normalize it 

There are plenty of examples where organizations have made statements promoting values that may veer into performative activism territory. This is what happens when a company doesn’t actively work to build a company culture that practices justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. It’s one thing to post a values statement on the website, it’s another to practice what you preach.

For example, we know we need to do more than offer a mission statement about our commitment to diversity on our culture page, so we release a social impact report annually to provide public accountability and share our commitment. 

We also assembled the JEDI team—a cohort celebrating the diverse lived experiences of our employees, clients, and those we work with that normalizes our values. Today, those principles are woven tightly into our organization. Here’s how they look if you’re after a bit of inspiration. 

Justice: Advocating for historically marginalized communities inside and outside of our work. 

Equity: Ensuring our actions as a company, both internally and externally, are transparent and equitable, from hiring to pay equity and beyond.

Diversity: Actively recruiting employees, clients, pro-bono partners, and vendors from diverse lived experiences and perspectives.

Inclusion: Ensuring that employees, clients, and our partners at Mad Fish Digital feel included and celebrated with every part of their identity and amplifying the voices of underrepresented individuals. 

One of the easiest and best places to promote your company values digitally is by dedicating parts of your website to social impact.3. Show Up Online 

The idea here is to build on your company values to normalize justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion while spotlighting LGBTQ+ voices online. The easiest and best places to promote those values digitally include:

  • Elevating LGBTQ+ vendors and partners via social media 
  • Amplifying LGBTQ+ partnerships and cross-promotions  
  • Dedicating parts of your website to social impact
  • Promoting your values in content and brand message

4. Rethink Rainbow Washing

Embossing merch with a rainbow is perhaps the most obvious example of rainbow washing. The issue isn’t the merch itself (some of it is very charming); it’s the commodification of LGBTQ+ values to drive profit. Customers are smart and are picking up on companies that don’t promote initiatives or demonstrate allyship throughout the year.

If you sell LGBTQ+-themed merch, attach it to a cause. Collaborating with a community organization or charity and donating a portion of your sales to show financial support tells folks your actions are authentic. You can also sell those products year-round to establish yourself as a long-term ally.