undertones rating system
Amidst a nationwide reckoning with racial injustice, our team of BIPOC women banded together under one common goal: educate everyday consumers to make better informed decisions when wielding their purchasing power.
At Undertones, we evaluate the extent to which brands value, address, and act upon matters of social impact and inclusivity. We are guided by the belief that All Black Lives Matter, so our rating system places particular emphasis on brands’ responses to racial injustice and the strides they have made toward creating equitable spaces for BIPOC communities.
Our rating system is guided by three pillars:
Each of these three pillars is further broken down into subcategories that are given individual scores. These subcategories make up each overall pillar score, and the three pillar scores make up the overall company score.
Company size: We classify the companies as large, mid-market, or small. For the purposes of our rating system, “large” companies are defined as those that are publicly traded; “mid-market” companies are non-public companies with over $50M in revenue, 500k+ followers on any single social media platform, more than 100 employees, or more than one physical office; and “small” companies are a catch-all category for those that do not meet the “mid-market” threshold. Our weighting system varies slightly depending on the company size.
Sources: All of the quantitative data used in our calculations is pulled from the company’s official website, published reports, and social media channels, as well as reputable third party news outlets when necessary. If the information required to answer a question has not been made available by a company, it is counted against the score rather than omitted from the calculation. We have employed this strict scoring methodology because we believe that companies’ failure to publish important data is an action for which they should be held accountable, just as they are held accountable for the information they do make public.
Information dissemination: At this time, we are not reaching out to companies to obtain information on topics that they have not reported on; if a company has gathered data, we expect that they make it available to the general public. However, we are open to engagement, either directly from brands or their constituents, that provides evidence substantiating a different rating. We also welcome the opportunity to share details of our ratings with brands directly to help them hold themselves accountable and find ways to improve their score.
representation & support
We believe that a company’s workforce composition speaks volumes about its commitment to social impact—after all, change starts from within. To evaluate this pillar, we take into consideration a range of factors.
Employee representation: Across a company’s Board of Directors, executive leadership, and overall workforce, we evaluate what percentage of the employees identify as:
Based on the general US population, we expect Black representation of at least 15%, BIPOC representation of at least 40%, and women-identifying representation of at least 50%.
Diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI): Additionally, we consider whether a company has a DEI senior leader, organization, or Black employee resource group. In the case of smaller companies, we look for indications of initiatives or internal discussions around DEI. While we understand that true organizational support should extend far beyond this, we expect companies of all sizes to be taking this initial step.
We weigh a company’s degree of public commitment primarily on their monetary contributions to DEI matters or organizations fighting racial injustice. For large companies that have published their earnings, we look for contributions of 0.1% to 5% of annual revenue. For all other companies, we look for contributions of $10k or more (but since contributions cannot be evaluated against annual revenue and the $10k threshold is extremely lenient, this pillar is given significantly less weight in the overall score).
Our first question when evaluating monetary contributions is whether a company has specifically pledged to support Black communities. Donations to underserved, underrepresented, or “minority” communities still count positively toward a company’s score, but we believe that public commitments should center first and foremost around Black lives and will therefore weigh scores accordingly.
Examples of monetary support we look for:
One-time or recurring donations
Investment or financing programs
We also consider companies’ third-party affiliations:
Partnerships with nonprofits or mission-based organizations, such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative, Rock the Vote, etc.
Sponsorship of individuals such as professional athletes, celebrities, influencers, or other public figures who use their platforms to speak out on racial injustice
Sponsorship of events that work to advance racial justice or uplift BIPOC communities, including hosted conversations, panels, or festivals highlighting Black artists
Co-branded partnerships or collaborations created specifically to raise awareness around racial injustice or highlight the work of BIPOC artists
Employee matching gift programs that are not limited to only certain types of nonprofits
In addition to assessing their commitment toward racial justice, we evaluate whether companies advocate for other marginalized groups, such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, refugees, people living with disabilities, and indigenous populations.
Finally, we scour the company’s website and official social media channels to determine what message they are sending around racial injustice, how they are communicating it, and whether their communications are perceived as genuine or performative.
Public statement: We verify that companies have made a formal statement regarding racial injustice. If they have, we ask whether they acknowledge that they can be doing better to combat racial inequality within their company, whether their message includes specific calls-to-action, and whether they clearly state “Black Lives Matter”.
Social media: We consider how a company uses their platform(s) beyond performative allyship, both in the frequency and quality of their posts. Rather than a single black square for #BlackoutTuesday, we want to ensure companies are facilitating an open dialogue with their followers and continuing the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement rather than reverting back to their “normal” content. We particularly uphold companies that share insightful learning resources, generate original educational content, amplify BIPOC voices, and have been championing social justice long before the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Representation: For companies that have the opportunity to showcase diversity in their feed, we consider whether they have adequate Black representation and BIPOC representation across their models. We evaluate whether brands are inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, and where applicable, we look for size inclusivity and representation of people with and without disabilities.
rating system & brand rating updates
We compile the individual scores for each pillar to give the brand an overall score. Brands can have one of three overall scores:
do better, a score between 0% and 49%
keep going, a score between 50% and 69%
undertones approved, a score of 70% and above
The rating criteria we currently employ is by no means all-encompassing; as everyday consumers that seek to align our purchases with our values, these are simply the main factors we consider when determining whether a company deserves our support. As we continue to develop our rating system, gather feedback from our users, and consult with experts in the field, we expect to expand and further refine our criteria and notify users whenever changes to our criteria are made.
We pride ourselves on keeping our ratings current and will update brand scores quarterly or whenever changes are made to our scoring criteria.
We believe that transparency is the bare minimum and is no cause for applause.
Our team came together out of a need to see brands take action, but it cannot stop with us. While companies should act on their own accord, we must hold them accountable through our collective purchasing power. As a platform rooted in community, we encourage you to provide feedback, share your experiences, and suggest brands or updates that you would like to see. Though this began as a tool for ourselves, we continue shaping this as a platform that is accessible to everyone.
At Undertones, we provide discerning, unbiased ratings that bring companies’ true colors to the surface. Through our combined efforts, we can create meaningful, lasting change.