“Media cannot reflect society if society is not reflected in the media.” (CreativeAccess.org.uk)

It’s the time of year when many of us are working on annual reports and reports to community. It’s also the time of year when many of us are digging through our organization’s photo bank, searching for images to include in these reports, images that reflect the diversity of our organizations in an appealing way.

Looking at photos through an equity lens is important for communicators so we can to make sure our organizations are portrayed in a positive light. We talk about how diverse our employee base is, and how inclusive we are in our business, but how are we portraying that in the images we are using? Do our unconscious biases affect our work and the images we use to represent our organization?

What is an Equity and Inclusion Lens?

According to the City for All Women Initiative, the equity and inclusion lens “is like a pair of glasses. It helps you see things from a new perspective. It helps you be more effective in your everyday work by getting a clearer focus and more complete view. This way, you can contribute to the full inclusion and participation of all…”

To break it down further, there are six lenses of equity:

Six lenses of equity. Copyright 2014 by Amelia M. Kraehe
Six lenses of equity. Copyright 2014 by Amelia M. Kraehe
  1. Recognition: Are we recognizing diversity in our images and stories?
  2. Participation: Who is able to participate in the process from inception to debrief?
  3. Access: Who has access to our process?
  4. Effects: What effects will this story have on our stakeholders (students, employees, etc.) if a mistake is made?
  5. Transformation: Is our organization changing to include equity internally? Is our organization working on racial equity?
  6. Distribution of resources: How is our practice affecting marginalized communities? (e.g., Do we have people of colour as vendors, photographers, videographers? How are the resources we are spending supporting the community we are talking about?)

How do we begin?

Understanding that there is a need to use an equity and inclusion lens with the images you choose is a good first step. Here are some other things to consider as you prepare and choose images (from Shared Voices: Mennonite Mission Network guidelines for anti-racism and anti-sexism communication):

  1. Figure out who is the active agent in your photos – the person who is the one pictured as doing something.
  2. Determine who is shown in positions of authority and leadership. Is the portrayal accurate? Does it tell the whole story?
  3. Take a look at body language and positioning – what does this tell us about who has the power? Take a look at the photo below. What do you notice?

    University of Washington
    Courtesy University of Washington
  4. Remember that there is no perfect formula for balancing representation and aspiration. Whatever your approach, listen to your stakeholders and ask for their input and feedback.

What shouldn’t we do?

Stock photography

Sure, stock photography is great when you’re on a time-crunch or don’t have the budget to do your own photo shoot, but your audience will know that you’re using stock photos. If you can avoid using stock photography, do it.


Don’t use Photoshop to add people into your photos to make them more diverse. The lighting will be different, the poses or outfits won’t match. It will be very obvious what you’ve done. Check out the two photos below. Can you spot the Photoshopped addition? Diallo Shabazz had never even been to a football game.

A bad Photoshop mistake by the University of Wisconsin Madison
A bad Photoshop mistake by the University of Wisconsin Madison

Remember, applying an equity and inclusion lens will take practice, and you won’t get it perfect at the start. But if you make yourself aware of the issues, you can start to implement changes in your work, which will help you build and protect your organization’s reputation and brand.

Join us on March 15 to learn more

Interested in learning more about Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace? Join us on March 15 to learn how to to successfully tackle the transformative topic of Diversity & Inclusion, presented by ATB. Find out more and register.

Ali Abel is the co-director of Member Communications for IABC/Calgary. When she’s not hard at work creating your weekly newsletter, you can find her out running, or working at her day job with the University of Calgary. 

The source of this content is based on images and concepts shared at the CASE District VIII 2018 conference session titled “Using and Equity Lens: The Images We Choose”. Content developed and presented by University of Washington Marketing and Communications and The Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity:

Erin Rowley, Director for Communications, Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity

Leilani Lewis, Associate Director, Diversity Communications & Outreach, University Marketing and Communications and Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity

Meg Mathews, Associate Director, Strategic Communications, University Marketing and Communications

Lauren Lee, Associate Director, Creative, University Marketing and Communications

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