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Gay woman launches spoof ‘rent-a-minority’ website; gets serious inquiries from employers

Gay woman launches spoof ‘rent-a-minority’ website; gets serious inquiries from employers

A spoof advert for the rent-a-minority website from Arwa Mahdawi

When Arwa Mahdawi, a partner at advertising agency Cummins&Partners, attended a New York hackathon in early February to explore tech solutions to ‘stupid ideas’ she felt inspired to set up a website to address issues around diversity in the workplace in a blunt but satirical way.

Surely everyone would understand that her rent-a-minority website – which allowed employers to search through such categories as ‘Ethically ambiguous’, ‘Cheerful woman of color’ and ‘Intellectual black guy’ – was a spoof, right?

Well, Mahdawi thought they would, but, writing in The Guardian, she says she has been surprised by the reaction to the site, which clocked up over 91,000 hits in just over a week of launching.

Mahdawi, a gay woman of Palestinian-British descent, says she has had over 500 applications to people wishing to become a minority to rent, and a couple of genuine inquiries to rent a minority.

‘Rent-A-Minority is a revolutionary new service designed for those oh-shit 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,’ says a statement on its home page.

‘Suddenly you’re being called out on Twitter and you need to look not-racist and not-misogynist fast.’

Screen shot from rent-a-minority.com
Screen shot from rent-a-minority.com

Mahdawi says that many of those applying to be rented realize its a joke, and have shared their ‘minority moments’ to prove their minority status, such as this applicant who listed himself as ‘openly gay’.

‘Frequently referred to as the “gay best friend”; jokes involving penises are always made around me; jokes involving me having sex with women are always made around me; frequent questions about anything and everything LGBT always come my way; a number of straight women insist on coming to me for fashion advice (I do not advertise my fashion advice, nor do I even enjoy giving it. Also, I’m not really good at fashion advice anyway).’

Mahdawi says that although the site was initially launched as a ‘stupid idea’, and because the domain name happened to be available, its creation is a genuine response to the simplistic way she feels diversity is sometimes tackled in the recruitment world.

‘Rentaminority.com is a ridiculously superficial approach to a complex problem, but so is much of the “diversity industry”. Which is sort of the point. Domain availability aside, I created the site because I felt frustrated with the surface-level manner in which diversity issues are often dealt with. From the largely positive way people appear to have reacted, it appears I’m not alone.’

The site does offer some serious suggestions in its FAQ section to businesses that genuinely want to tackle inequality, such as ‘offering paid internships instead of unpaid internships that only wealthy people can afford to do’ and ‘constantly auditing themselves to see that they are doing what they can to advance the careers of the top talent, no matter race/gender/religion etc’

In an email to Gay Star Business, Mahdawi says she had no big plans for the site, despite receiving several offers.

‘I never had a real “strategy” behind the site as I didn’t think it would get so much attention!

‘I’ve had enquiries about turning the site into a TV show or a play or about actually turning the joke into a reality and renting out minorities! But I think the site has sort of served its purpose as is. It has started a conversation and, hopefully, caused some people to reassess their implicit biases and their attitudes towards “diversity.”

‘I’m very happy with what it has achieved already. Maybe it will inspire some other people’s creative projects. And it has inspired me to get more into activism.

‘I think the nicest email I got was from a young woman who showed the site to her white boss who had told her she’d been hired for “diversity.” She said at first he thought the site was funny, then he got defensive, then they had a good conversation and she thinks he learned something.’