Sometimes a brand can fall with just a few sloppily written words. For Coca-Cola, those words were “be less white”.

On February 19, a Coca-Cola diversity training suggesting employees try to “be less white” caused quite a stir. Dr. Karlyn Borysenko was the first to tweet screenshots from the training (meant to promote diversity at Coca-Cola).

Borysenko received images of the slides from Coca-Cola whistleblowers who said they were “required” to take the course. One slide from the seminar simply said “Try to be less white.”

Coke’s “Be Less White” Training Goes Viral

Here’s the original tweet that went viral:

In just 4 days, the tweet was viewed by 23 million people, according to Newsweek. Her follow-up video below (with commentary) on YouTube now has over 168,000 views:

Dr. Karlyn Borysenko LinkedIn
Dr. Karlyn Borysenko (known as @DrKarlynB on Twitter) — Organizational Psychologist and YouTube Commentator. Borysenko’s tweet and YouTube video about Coca-Cola’s “be less white” diversity training went viralon February 19, 2021. (Image source: LinkedIn)

Another YouTube user even wrote a song about the controversy titled “We Gotta Be LESS WHITE”:

LinkedIn Pulls”Be Less White” Training Program

The diversity seminar titled “Facing Racism” that triggered Coca-Cola’s backlash was hosted by Robin DiAngelo on LinkedIn Education. It’s no longer live on the site.

Robin DiAngelo — DiAngelo’s website says she has been a “consultant, educator and facilitator for over 20 years on issues of racial and social justice.” (Image source: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Coca-Cola apologizes for “be less white” diversity training in a public statement

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola said the seminar wasn’t mandatory but was offered to employees as part of their company strategy to support diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Here’s the full official statement from Coca-Cola’s president in response to the criticism:

We have to do better.

The goal of our diversity training is to help build a better workplace, one that is respectful for all.   Recently, we learned that content accessible through our company training platform did not align with this approach. To be clear, this was not a part of our training curriculum and we immediately removed the links to that content.

We apologize to those who were offended by this content. We would never encourage anyone to be any less of themselves. 

As we continue to evolve our training, we know we won’t always get everything right, but we have learned from this experience. In fact, we have taken to heart one very key lesson – the importance of continuing to listen, learn and adapt, as together we work to refresh the world and make a difference.”

– Alfredo Rivera, President, The Coca-Cola Company, North America

The key takeaway from this is that words matter. One word (or two in this case) can affect your brand and public image—words in your emails, on your website, in training seminars, and even in your job descriptions.

Why I Wrote This

Ongig’s mission is to help eliminate boring and biased job content. Removing biased language in job descriptions is a top priority in many company diversity strategies. Ongig’s Text Analyzer job description tool supports creating inclusive job postings to help attract diverse talent.

Shout-Outs:

  1. Coca-Cola Asks Its Workers to Be ‘Less White’ to Fight Racism (by Mairem Del Río)
  2. LinkedIn removes training seminar telling people to be ‘less white,’ following Coca-Cola backlash (by Bradford Betz)
  3. COCA-COLA FACES BACKLASH OVER SEMINAR ASKING STAFF TO ‘BE LESS WHITE’ (by Jade Bremner)
  4. Statement on The Coca-Cola Company Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Training (by The Coca-Cola Company)
  5. After Coca-Cola Backlash, LinkedIn Removes Diversity Lesson Telling Employees to ‘Be Less White’ (by Paul Bond)

by in Diversity and Inclusion

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