What Does It Say When Companies Take A Joke Diversity Website Seriously?
When Arwa Mahdawi attended the Stupid Hackathon for stupid ideas, she thought she had a hilarious one: a Rent-A-Minority website that spoofed the diversity tokenism rampant in the media and tech industries. It was a funny idea, but also…after 91,000 clicks, a Mahdawi realized her fictional service was being taken seriously as an option by companies seeking to increase diversity in their workforces.
Diversity’s become something all businesses want these days — or feel legally obligated to have, anyway — having been linked statistically to retention, innovation, and productivity. “I created the site because I felt frustrated with the surface-level manner in which diversity issues are often dealt with,” Mahdawi told the Mail&Guardian.
Mahdawi may have wondered at first if her comedy was too broad. It has a hilarious tagline of “Get Ethics with Our Ethnics,” and an opening spiel that starts off:
“Rent-A-Minority is a revolutionary new service designed for those oh-[expletive] moments where you’ve realized your award show, corporate brochure, conference panel is entirely composed of white men. For, like, the fifth year in a row.”
And yet, companies actually thought the site was a legitimate staffing resource. Never mind that it offers to provide minority staff like Cheerful Woman of Color who won’t make you uncomfortable by being “an angry black woman.” There’s also Smiling Muslim Woman, “certified not to support ISIS (or your money back)” and Intellectual Black Guy to “stand next to you while you say racist things at parties.” It’s all pretty hilarious.
According to Haley McEwen, research co-ordinator at the Wits Centre of Diversity Studies (Wits is a real school and not part of the joke in case you’re wondering), companies may be in search of a pre-packaged diversification solution if management doesn’t see itself as having anything to contribute to diversification, or if they’re really only interested in diversifying to avoid a fine.
Rent-A-Minority is not that pre-packaged solution.