Stock Photos Don’t Do Your Diversity Efforts Any Favors

December 5, 2016, 2:13 PM UTC
Businessman Series
International group of Business people in a meeting.
Thomas_EyeDesign/Getty Images

The woman in this photo has had an impressive career. She’s worked in the tech industry, at a Fortune 500 company, in academic publishing, and for a Canadian regulatory agency — at least that’s the resume you could build with the company websites that use her likeness.

In reality, she’s a model who posed for a stock photo. The images used by these companies were taken in Heidelberg, Germany nearly a decade ago, according to photographer Willie Thomas. The woman featured in them has since returned to China, Thomas said.

Why talk about this now? In the course of other reporting, Fortune came across the photo on Corning’s diversity page and thought it looked familiar. A Google image search quickly confirmed that the image is a stock photo that lives elsewhere on the internet. Corning was the only company to use the photo on its diversity page.


“The people images across our website are a mix of employee images and stock images, based on a combination of several factors including: image quality, layout requirements, availability, permissions, relevance to the particular topic, etc,” Corning told Fortune in an email, noting that the photo in question was a stock image but other photos on their diversity page featured real Corning employees.

Generally using stock images on a company site is not a problem, said Tiffany R. Warren, Senior VP, Chief Diversity Officer for Omnicom Group and Founder of ADCOLOR, but when it comes to representing your company’s diversity though, a stock image can seem insincere.

“I think people know the difference,” she said.

Instead organizations that want to signal to the public — and to their own employees — that diversity and inclusion are important should make an effort to represent their company in a more genuine manner.

“Look within your company and support and salute and shine a light on your diversity champions,” she said.

Whether it’s a page on your website or a brochure, offering information about diversity is an opportunity to highlight those people working within the company who are from different cultures and communities, said Warren. It also helps create a sense of pride in employees who are excited and proud to represent the company they work for as having an inclusive workplace culture.

“We as an industry rely heavily on stock photos,” Warren said of advertisers and marketers. “We use it for our clients. It’s just easier sometimes to do that than to do a full photoshoot.”

But when it comes to emphasizing workplace culture and the various backgrounds of employees, the extra time and effort make a difference.

Warren talked about her experience at Omnicom, a marketing and communications company, where they avoided the stock photo pitfall by featuring their own employees in literature that promotes diversity and inclusion.

She organized a photoshoot for a dozen of Omnicom Group’s diversity champions. The officers in charge of diversity and inclusion at each of the group’s agencies came together for a two-day shoot where each person was turned into a superhero and had their picture taken by a photographer of color.

Akintayo Adewole Adewole Photography 2016
Akintayo Adewole Adewole Photography 2016

Doug Melville, chief diversity officer for North America at Omnicom’s TBWAWorldwide location, participated in the 2-day photoshoot and celebration of diversity. He’s third from the left in the photo above and was transformed in an Aquaman-inspired superhero.

“You think about the creativity of comic books — they’re empowering, symbolic, they lead through inspiration,” he said. “We all work separately but together.”

After the photos had been post-produced and edited, the group came back together for an unveiling with the photographer. Each diversity champion received a framed canvas print, Melville said.

“When you look at diversity, sometimes it sounds preachy,” he said, but the positive reaction to the photos from this shoot around the Omnicom offices has shown the benefits of approaching diversity and inclusion from a more creative perspective. Melville has seen these efforts translate into tangible progress at TBWA, citing examples such as increased diversity of vendors and widened talent searches.

“I just think that we have to lead,” he said, “We’re part of the fabric of an economy in America. We’re part of something that’s much larger than ourselves, and I think that all that symbolically was sort of rolled up into this photoshoot and the things that we actually do day to day.”

While this level of production may be too elaborate for some companies, presenting your diversity through your own employees doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive.

“I think you would not find a shortage of volunteers, of people who want to represent your company and the diversity that’s within its walls,” Warren said.

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