Performativity for Profit: The issue with tokenizing diversity within industries

In recent years, there has been a trend for companies to issue public statements supporting sociopolitical issues. It is clear that corporations have realized that in order for businesses to do well, they must at least appear to align with consumer values.

However, does the appearance actually line up with reality? Have there been any concrete and substantial actions to follow through with the initial statement of support?

In a survey conducted by Have Her Back Consulting, it was concluded that people believed that the #MeToo movement has had a positive impact on gender equality in culture, but that impact did not apply to their place of employment. 53% of the respondents feel that their “company/employer has talked the talk since #MeToo but has not seen them walking the walk.” 55% of the respondents agree that more needs to be done in order to advance women in the workplace.

This behavior is not one reserved for just the #MeToo movement, though. In the fashion industry, brands and retailers have pledged to improve their social and environmental policies and practices. However, Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index 2020 found that “brands disclose more about their policies than they do about how they put these policies into action. Brands disclose comparatively less about the outcomes, results, and progress they have made to address social and environmental issues in the business and across the supply chain.”

Companies and brands understand the importance of being socially responsible. However, they are likely struggling with the follow through because the social values they allegedly align with do not align with their commercial ones. As I enter the corporate world, I am trying to look ahead into the future and think about the effect I want to have on society. For me, it is important to not only support myself, but to have a positive impact on the world. This means that the company that I work at should be a company that not only believes in having a positive impact on society, but also follows through. My personal belief is that whatever benefits you receive from society, you should return the favor. Companies clearly benefit from society by being able to sell their products and profit. However, it tends to be at society’s expense rather than to its benefit. In this article I will be discussing why private entities should be more purposeful in their public impact and why their commercial values should align with sociopolitical ones.

Why do companies need to get involved?

It is arguable that because most corporations are private companies, they need to focus on economies of scale rather than social movements. However, even though they are a private entity, the reach and influence that they have is very much in the public sphere. Their business, actions, and statements all have the ability to shift society and influence it for better or for worse.

Tech Companies

Tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google have the power to sway the minds of an entire community. Their algorithms can expose people to fake news, misinformation, as well as propagate the hate speech of various groups. In 2016, Facebook, Google, and Twitter all found activities of Russian interference with the intent to increase division and conflict amongst American citizens. Facebook’s Russian-backed posts reached as many as 126 million Americans on the platform, while Twitter found at least 2,752 accounts linked to Russian operatives. Dominic Cummings, a political strategist and key figure in Brexit, has stated that he deliberately misinformed individuals by deploying more than a billion Facebook ads in order to sway the public to vote for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Just from these examples alone, the impact that tech companies hold within our political discussion is clear. If they have the power to sway elections, imagine the sway they would have on public sentiment in regard to social movements.

Fashion, Beauty, & Make-up Companies

Aside from social and environmental policies, fashion and makeup companies also help define and influence society’s idea of beauty. Up until recently, the global beauty standards for brands were Eurocentric- white, big eyes, tall, and thin. This, in turn, has created a culture in which people bleach their skin in order to lighten it, get plastic surgery to have double eyelids and bigger eyes, and have eating disorders to achieve these unrealistic standards. After the release of Fenty Beauty, brands have come to realize that there is profit to be made in diversity and brands are starting to try to offer shades of “nude” that now fit a spectrum of people. However, brands are still faltering with their representation of diversity. Dior’s new film for their Autumn Winter 2020–2021 haute couture collection whitewashed Greek mythology by employing only white models even though Greek mythology has been known to involve Ethiopia and black mythological figures. It is time that brands normalize diversity and depict it in a way that is respectful and natural in order to portray the actual spectrum of races, ethnicities, sizes, and ages.

Financial Institutions

Financial institutions control a large stream of money and therefore wield significant influence. Where they decide to invest their money in turn determines which industries flourish. Despite various global banks claiming to support for the Paris Climate Agreement, a report by Rainforest Action Network has shown that banks have been expanding the fossil fuel sector with investments that total more than $2.7 trillion USD in the 4 years since then. In 2017, the International Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was passed in order to prohibit nuclear weapons; however, companies are still producing them, and financial institutions are still financing them. Don’t Bank on the Bomb’s report found that 325 financial institutions invested over $748 billion USD in the top 18 nuclear weapon producing companies between January 2017 and January 2019. While investing and funding things such as fossil fuel and nuclear weapons may have a profitable ROI, it also has the effect of harming society in the long term. If these financial institutions were to start redirecting these investments to things such as green technology and socially responsible businesses, society would see a bigger and faster improvement due to the money and power injected into these industries.

How will companies benefit?

Companies are agents of change and heavily influence the society that we all live in. It is clear that a change in their behavior will have a positive impact on society, but how will it impact these companies for the better?

All companies are in a social contract between the themselves, their employees, shareholders, consumers, and regulators of the industry. Now, it can be seen that a broader set of stakeholders are becoming involved, such as communities affected by the companies, nonprofits who advocate for negatively affected communities, academics who study the impact of the company or their products, and the media that has the power to sway public opinion on companies. Aside from the change in parties involved in the social contract, the terms are now starting to shift. As previously mentioned, companies are having a hard time aligning their own commercial values with today’s sociopolitical issues. However, it can be increasingly seen that companies are now expected by stakeholders to align the commercial values with the sociopolitical ones. If companies choose to ignore the expectations of the powerful and large group of stakeholders involved, they run the risk of tarnishing the brand, negative financial impacts, and legal and regulatory action.

There is also a benefit in merging sociopolitical values with companies’ businesses. Consumers are more likely to spend money on brands that they believe align with their values- in fact, 84% of millennials say that a brand’s commitment to social issues influence whether or not they purchase from the brand. Understanding and engaging in sociopolitical issues, just as Fenty Beauty did with their inclusion of a wider range of skin tones, will also help companies identify new opportunities and funds that engage in socially responsible investments. Aligning and following through with sociopolitical values will help companies gain more consumers, create new products, and enter different markets.

The impact that various industries have on different aspects in today’s society are significant and have the power to change society for the better. It is no longer enough for companies to create a social media post or release a statement and do nothing else. While that may have been satisfactory before, with NGOs releasing industry reports and an increase in access to information; it does not take long for consumers to see which companies take real action and which companies perform for the sake of publicity and profit. There is now an expectation for companies to follow through or end up damaging themselves in the long term. While it is unrealistic to ask companies to take on the responsibility of changing society, it is time for them to get involved in a substantial way. Collaborating with other companies and communities across the industry to create codes of conduct, participating in debates regarding sociopolitical issues, or turning in to look at whether the corporation’s culture and value align with their sociopolitical agenda are all ways that companies can begin to get involved. By aligning their commercial values with sociopolitical ones, companies can become valuable participants in the betterment of the future of the world.

Written By: Kitisupa (Fah) Sriprasert

As a recent law school graduate, Fah is eager to create positive social change in the world. Although an in-house trainee solicitor by day, based in Hong Kong, she strives to balance her work in the legal space and within society all day.

About ila:

As a multi-awarded social enterprise, our aim, at ila, is to champion a purpose-driven and socially aware workforce. Our innovative tailored programs and world-class advisory team have extensive experience working with HR professionals, leadership teams and employees to champion a diverse and gender equal culture in the workplace.

Visit ila at to find out more about us, the work we do and how we can help you in taking the first step towards a new way of working.



An award-winning Social Enterprise unleashing the potential of a purpose-driven generation. Visit us at to learn more.

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An award-winning Social Enterprise unleashing the potential of a purpose-driven generation. Visit us at to learn more.