Skip to Content

How Images Shape Diversity

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

The Oakland, Calif warehouse fire is a direct result of gentrification, say residents
The horrific warehouse fire last Friday claimed the lives of 36 confirmed victims and has the grieving Oakland community casting about for answers. Local artists and performers are asking the city to do more to protect the underground performance and experimental co-living spaces, like the warehouse. These spaces predominantly attract LGBT artists and low-income people of color who are drawn to the cultural vibrancy of Oakland but unable to afford the skyrocketing home and workplace prices.
The Guardian

A majority of teachers say that Trump’s win has had a negative effect on students
More than 90% of 10,000 K-12 teachers who were recently surveyed by the Southern Poverty Law Center said that their schools have been negatively impacted by Trump’s election. Teachers are reporting “heightened anxiety and concern,” from vulnerable students and a significant uptick in verbal harassment, racist language and disturbing incidents involving Nazi salutes, Confederate flags and swastikas. The situation appears to be worsening.
SPLC

What great companies know about diversity
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.
Fortune

Six ways to hire and retain employees with disabilities
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.  
Jopwell

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.
Salon

The Woke Leader

Why it matters that we see Muslims on television
Zarqa Narwaz is the creator of the Canadian show, Little Mosque on the Prarie, the first sitcom featuring Muslims living in the West, and which ran from 2007-2012. (It’s still streaming on Hulu, if you want to check it out.) In this essay for The New York Times, she shares some of her early worries about using humor to poke at prejudices while helping Muslims be seen as accessible, occasionally quirky, people. “People thought that Muslims in Canada would blow up the [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] for daring to poke fun at Islam,” she says. “My community was so used to being portrayed as stock villains, hijackers and terrorists, they had a hard time seeing themselves looking, well, foolish.”
New York Times

A difficult radio conversation about race goes viral
Colour Code is a just-completed, and truly excellent podcast series about race in Canada by two journalists from The Globe and Mail, Denise Balkissoon and Hannah Sung. They dig into race, bias, and identity with real skill, and show that Canadians struggle with these issues as much as Americans do. Please don’t miss “Eggshells,” an episode about “white fragility” that begins with an increasingly awful on-air conversation about the concept of cultural assimilation that a blindsided Balkissoon had as the guest of a defensive white radio host. The encounter triggered a deluge of online attention and is an accidental master class in race, difficult conversations and leadership…with a surprise ending.
The Globe and Mail

The youngest elected official in NYC fights for the poor
The New Yorker has a must-read profile of dynamo Ritchie Torres, who was raised in, and now represents, some of the poorest zip codes in the Bronx. He also grew up in the long shadow of Trump the developer, who threatened to buy and evict families from the housing project where his mother still lives; Trump also repurposed an abandoned lot in his neighborhood into a golf course in a sweetheart deal that imperiled residents. And now, he says, his job is to fight for the poor that the PEOTUS has spent a career ignoring. “New York is a tale of two cities. You have the gilded city and the other city,” he says.
New Yorker

Quote

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