Updated: Apr 13
With the expansion of DEI efforts and commitments, we have seen a hodgepodge of superficial, underwhelming, and performative attempts by companies to improve (or appear to improve) diversity, equity, and inclusion. While there are certainly companies that are doing great work or at least putting in sincere effort, there are others that are so bad that they would have been better off doing nothing. Most recently, Walmart, Netflix, and Wells Fargo have all been facing criticism and backlash from consumers and employees for their failed DEI. Here’s a breakdown of what’s going on in these behemoth companies, though we can only speculate on how they all managed to drop the ball so badly.
We may never know exactly what goes on inside the boardrooms and HR meetings at major corporations, but we really wish we could have been a fly on the wall for this one. What we can only assume was a completely white (or at least non-black) marketing team at Walmart somehow decided to release a Juneteenth themed ice cream under the company’s Great Value brand. If that isn’t cringy enough by itself, the megastore is also being accused of copying the flavor (red velvet cheesecake) from a company called Creamalicious, one of the only African American-owned national ice cream brands in mass production. Walmart has since pulled the product from its shelves, apologized, and completely failed to provide any sort of explanation as to why this happened or if they are actually doing anything meaningful to honor Juneteenth and their many, many black employees. Fortunately, some good has come out of this situation, and Creamalicious and its founder Liz Rogers are getting some well-deserved recognition.
Following the murder of George Floyd two years ago, Netflix was one of the first major companies to make DEI commitments. Last year, they claimed they were committing $100 million over the next five years to “organizations that help underrepresented communities find jobs in TV and film,” in addition to working with more filmmakers who are women and people of color. Fast forward to April of this year, and amid the announcement of a massive loss in profits and subscribers as well as a sizable stock decline, Netflix laid off 150 workers and let go of dozens of contractors, many of who are people of color and members of underrepresented groups. Several have (anonymously) spoken to news outlets and believe they were considered expendable “diversity hires'', brought on to make the company look good, but ultimately when the company ran into tough times, they were the first to be let go.
Recently, the New York Times reported that Wells Fargo allegedly held sham interviews with diverse applicants just to satisfy a policy similar to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule”. When a former Wells Fargo executive complained about this to colleagues, he was fired. Time-wasting interviews combined with blatant retaliation sounds like an incredibly toxic work environment, and that isn’t the end of Wells Fargo’s DEI issues. The bank has come under fire in the past for several other scandals, including rejecting more black mortgage applicants at a higher rate than any other bank. Ultimately it seems like Wells Fargo’s blunders are indicative of a much larger institutional problem, and they will need to do some serious work to resurrect their disgraceful and performative DEI “program.”
DEI can certainly be challenging, but mistakes like these are simply unacceptable and should, at this point, be obsolete. If a DEI program or policy is doing more harm than good, it’s time for a major overhaul.
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FIG Strategy & Consulting helps leaders create diverse and inclusive organizations to retain top talent, improve engagement, promote innovation, attract new market segments and improve business revenues.