Diversity-Washing: The Problem with Corporate Diversity Ratings

Tom Juravich and Erik Plowden

Executive Summary

Given critiques by Black Lives Matter and other social movements, corporate America has been scrambling to develop policy statements and strategic plans to buttress their reputations as good corporate citizens. As part of this newfound enthusiasm of employers around inclusion and diversity, we have seen the emergence of a number of “Best Companies for Diversity” listings that purport to identify the firms most committed to diversity. One of the most recognized is the Forbes list of “America’s Best Employers for Diversity.” The paper examines how the research was conducted to generate its rating and the validity of the findings.

  • Companies chose the individuals to participate in the Forbes survey, raising serious red flags about the representatives of those responding. Nothing stops a firm from surveying only office positions and not manufacturing jobs, choosing from the most diverse division or where diversity training has been implemented.
  • The second major flaw is that the questions on the survey are primarily about employee attitudes. This research does not actually measure the employer’s diversity or efforts to increase its diversity. These are the actual measures of corporate dedication to diversity, and they are not part of this rating system. We compared the findings from the Forbes list to another list developed by Fortune magazine. Only five companies are in the top 50 of both lists. That there is so little overlap suggests these are far from objective measures of diversity and inclusion, and these ratings are designed primarily as public relations efforts.
  • Forbes indicates that they disqualify employers from the listing if there have been “ongoing allegations or unresolved lawsuits” around diversity and inclusion. We spent ten hours investigating the top 50 firms on the Forbes list to test this and identified that in around  17 of the top 50 employers there were significant events that should have disqualified employers from the list
  • If corporations are fully committed to diversity and inclusion, they should not settle for public relations efforts disguised as research such as the Forbes “America’s Best Employers for Diversity.” Instead, they should work with fully independent organizations to develop objective measures and administer surveys that look at the hard work of making more diverse and inclusive workplaces.