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How Images Shape Diversity

December 6, 2016, 3:04 PM UTC

Now, more than ever, pictures tell the story. But is it the story you want told?

When my colleague, Grace Donnelly, discovered the photo of the same Asian woman appearing on a host of company websites – one, in particular, on their employee diversity and inclusion page – she decided to do a little digging.

“The woman in this photo has had an impressive career,” wrote Donnelly. “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.”

Turns out the woman, who is looking up from her laptop with a crisp competence signaled by her tailored jacket, no makeup, and confident semi-smile, was a model. The picture is part of a stock collection of photos that any company might use if you don’t happen to have any photogenic Asian people around the office when you need them. (You can read the story here.)

The correct use of photos, particularly of women and people of color, has long been a sensitive issue for traditional publications, and the public has become increasingly critical of efforts they believe fall short.

Consider the photos used by the media when portraying black victims of police shootings. Critics say the images often unfairly portray the person as dangerous or deserving of extrajudicial punishment, rather than a fully realized person with a meaningful life. “My friends in the media, use this picture of #WalterScott in all his dignity,” tweeted South Carolina lawyer and CNN commentator Bakari Sellers yesterday, along with an image of Mr. Scott in his Coast Guard uniform in front of an American flag. “Not him running being gunned down from behind.” The trial of Michael Slager, the officer who shot the unarmed Scott last year, ended in a hung jury yesterday. The other result? Another deluge of images of Scott fleeing, or worse, his lifeless body.

But now, everyone is a publisher. Choosing images of humans to accompany a corporate message can be a complex exercise. And that’s the big message of Donnelly’s well-reported piece: When using images of underrepresented people in your corporate collateral materials, take extra time to consider the implications of your choices. You can start by becoming more sensitive to the inherent biases in both photography and the stock photo ecosystem. (Check out the Lean In Collection, a library of images that instantly widens your options for the depiction of working women of all hues and sizes.)

But if you want your employees and the public to know that diversity and inclusion are legitimate priorities, use images of real people in your actual workplace – employees, board members, investors, supply chain partners – when you sing your own praises. “Look within your company and support and salute and shine a light on your diversity champions,” Tiffany R. Warren, Senior VP, Chief Diversity Officer for Omnicom Group and Founder of ADCOLOR told Donnelly.

And skip the stock photos. “I think people know the difference,” she said.

On Point

A hung jury in the Michael Slager trial disappoints the communityAfter four days of deliberation, the jury couldn't reach a verdict in the trial of Michael Slager, the South Carolina police officer who fatally shot the unarmed Walter Scott. The result: a hung jury and declaration of mistrial. The jury had three options - a conviction for murder or voluntary manslaughter, or an acquittal. The governor called for another trial as quickly as possible. “He will get his just reward. I’m just waiting on the Lord,” said Scott’s mother.Post and Courier

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The Guardian

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Michael C. Bush and Kim Peters, the CEO and Executive Vice President at the research consultancy Great Place to Work, have written a terrific piece that identifies some must-have best practices for companies that want to succeed in their inclusion efforts. But they end on an inspiring note that I wanted to flag: “Work is a space where trust—among people of different political persuasions, of different education levels, races, sexes, ages and sexual orientations—can be rebuilt,” they write. Helping individuals productively connect with people different from themselves is a healing strategy in a divided world.

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Ola Ojewumi is an activist, journalist, and community organizer who uses a motorized scooter to get around. This, says the college-educated, former White House intern and non-profit founder, turned out to be her great differentiator. “[A]s my able-bodied peers started collecting signing bonuses and kicking off their careers, I could not for the life of me land a job,” she writes. Excellent candidates with disabilities are routinely overlooked because employers incorrectly assume that expensive accommodations are next.  

Veterans formally apologize to Native Americans for their role in history
Wes Clark, Jr, one of the veterans who traveled to Standing Rock to support the Dakota pipeline protestors, participated in a ceremony with tribal elders celebrating the halt in construction. Flanked by other veterans, Clark formally asked for forgiveness. “Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills.” The video is really moving.

The Woke Leader

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New York Times

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The Globe and Mail

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New Yorker


I like to say I’m happily black. So I don’t have a problem at all, sort of having skin the color of chocolate. But in this country I came to realize…that meant something, that it came with baggage and with all of these assumptions. And that the idea of black achievement was a remarkable thing. Whereas for me in Nigeria, it wasn’t. 
—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie