Written by Hailey McBurney
More than anyone, communicators understand that perception is reality. What people see, hear, and experience is truth—intent notwithstanding. Often when we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, the tendency is to look at photos to confirm that people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds are included. However, this focus only on visible diversity shouldn’t be where our efforts end.
As communicators, we have the opportunity and responsibility to find the best way to make our materials more inclusive and representative of our employees, customers, and communities. To ensure people can see and hear themselves authentically reflected, here are five questions to ask yourself as you plan and execute your communications and marketing campaigns, initiatives, and materials.
1. Am I representing the value people bring to their role and/or our communities?
Invite people to participate in photo or video shoots in ways that acknowledge their entire being rather than simply because of a specific dimension of diversity—skin colour, gender, etc. Let their involvement focus on their work and area of expertise.
For example, if I’ve agreed to participate in a panel about communications, I want to be asked because I’m good at my job, not because I’m a woman of colour. I would expect that my likeness is used in an equally authentic way.
2. Have I considered the dynamics in which individuals are presented?
More than just having a diverse group of people present, it’s equally important that people are represented positively and not in a way that reinforces stereotypes. You could ask questions such as “Do I have diverse leaders in group shots? Are people presented in non-stereotypical gender roles?” or “Am I perpetuating the idea that certain ethnicities follow certain professional paths?”
3. Does the lighting and conditions in our video/photoshoot work for a variety of skin tones and complexions?
If you’ve ever seen a photo of yourself and thought “Oh, that doesn’t really look like me,” then you’ll understand the added disappointment of having professional photos that wash you out or over-expose your skin. This disappointment is an all-too-common experience for people with non-white skin tones who have either been photographed by someone who has a certain style or aesthetic—washed out, muted tones—or someone who hasn’t paid attention to how certain tones look in various lighting conditions.
To ensure the final product is an accurate image, be sure to check in with your photographers and videographers on this point. You can ask for references and look at samples.
4. Did I make the appropriate considerations to make my audio and video content more inclusive?
This question centers around two key aspects; one being the default use of captions or transcripts to make audio content accessible. The second is around using voices that reflect the diversity of the audience. If you listen to voiceovers for videos, you’ll often hear a North American accent as the standard.
Opting for different accents and geographical dialects is an opportunity for people to see (and hear) themselves represented.
5. Do I have a diverse representation of gender, gender expression, cultural attire, ethnicity, age, body shape, facial hair, natural hair, tattoos, disabilities, veteran status?
This question challenges us to step away from our traditional view of what is professional and acceptable. It invites us to expand our perspectives of people as complete beings. Does your messaging talk about “bringing your whole self” with you? This one question can push you to “walk the walk”.
There are many more actions to take to create more inclusive communications. But in the spirit of “starting somewhere”, we can use these questions to surface and challenge our own unconscious bias. This is essential to building more inclusive communications, creating better work and ultimately, more inclusive spaces.