• Social capital

Purplewashing: what is it and how to avoid it?

Purplewashing: what is it and how to avoid it?


Purplewashing echoes the well-known concept of greenwashing, but this often misunderstood term raises crucial questions about companies’ integrity in their communications strategies when it comes to representing women. To mark International Women’s Rights Day, join us to discover this type of washing (and above all, how to avoid it!) for more genuine communication.

Purplewashing defined

Purplewashing derives from the combination of the word purple, representing the color of the feminist cause, and the suffix -washing, referring to a form of cheating. In marketing and corporate communications, purplewashing refers to a practice whereby companies proclaim their support for gender equality or women’s rights, without actually taking concrete or significant action towards this cause. This strategy is often used to gain popularity or improve brand image, but it highlights a form of opportunism rather than genuine commitment.


Example of purplewashing

A case of purplewashing might be a company that loudly celebrates International Women’s Rights Day, but has no women in management on its team. We often see it: brands feel the need to mention that there’s still a lot of work ahead to achieve gender equality, but do nothing the rest of the year to try and make it happen. In other words, it’s important to be vigilant, as this is one of those days when it’s very easy to fall into the purplewashing trap. 

How to avoid falling into the trap?

To avoid purplewashing, your communications need to be more transparent. Here are some key strategies we adopt with our customers and in marketing our own brand:

  • Aligning actions and messages

Make sure your company actually does what it preaches when it comes to gender equality. This includes fair internal policies, initiatives to support women and active involvement in feminist causes. By active engagement, we mean actions that go beyond donations. It’s also important that communications volume reflects the real impact of the initiative. For example, a large campaign announcing that your company has just hired 10 women should be avoided. Firstly, how many women are there in the company? Are these 10 women a minority? With such a campaign, it’s impossible to know whether the gesture is intentional or whether, by coincidence, the applications received were feminine. Hiring women doesn’t guarantee the absence of in-house sexism either. However, if, for instance, you integrate a woman into your management team, it could be interesting to communicate if your goal really is to achieve and maintain parity over time. Measuring an action and issuing targets and goals are essential aspects of staying away from all types of washing. A good example of balancing the intensity of communication with the real impact of action would be the announcement of a program to integrate women into male-dominated professional environments.


  • Transparency

Transparency is essential, especially with your employees. All challenges, irritants and roadblocks must be discussed in-house before being communicated externally. Transparency is also essential on social networks. For example, if you’ve communicated X goal and failed to achieve it, it’s important to let your target audiences know why, and what improvements will be implemented to achieve it.


  • Working with feminist organizations

Working with organizations dedicated to feminist causes can add richness to your commitments and ensure that your efforts are relevant and well-directed. To set up such an initiative, you need to run a series of lunch-and-learns with your talents with an organization to raise their awareness for the cause, run one or more workshops featuring fictional or real-life cases, or run real projects in partnership. In fact, it’s highly recommended to raise awareness before taking action, even when it comes to impact.


  • Continuous listening and learning

Keep listening to feedback from your community and employees. Understanding and adapting to women’s needs and expectations is crucial to authentic communication. You can set up internal discussion groups so that women can share their experiences, give recommendations for improvement and share success stories internally or with other companies.


Escaping purplewashing

A great fictional example of a business that escapes purplewashing would be a technology brand renowned for its commitment to gender equality. Not only does it integrate women at all organizational levels, but it also carries out concrete initiatives to support women in technology. It offers training and scholarships for women, works closely with feminist organizations and is transparent about its gender equality policies. It also raises awareness among all its partners about women’s place in society and business. Its holistic approach and tangible actions show that it is possible to effectively support feminist causes without falling into purplewashing. 

To conclude, purplewashing is a complex and delicate subject in corporate communications. Brands need to understand the importance of aligning their messages with their internal actions. By adopting a transparent, collaborative and learning-oriented approach, companies make a significant contribution to gender equality and can avoid the purplewashing trap.


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