The power of visual content for driving diversity
By Dr. Natasha Hirst on 16 January 2024
What we see shapes our perceptions of the world around us and influences the decisions we make. Whether promoting products or services, or running a recruitment campaign, the images and videos in your communications are vital for reaching your audience.
Kate Philpot, Senior Director Global Sales Enablement at Getty Images and iStock explains how “building trust is key in commercial storytelling. At Getty Images, we have been researching the importance of authentic representation for over 20 years. While business needs have evolved over that time, the need to visualise the world inclusively has only grown more necessary.
As businesses have been challenged by their customers to be more transparent, they must connect the dots between talk and action. People have higher expectations than ever before of the companies they work for or do business with. What we have seen consistently through our VisualGPS consumer research is that people want businesses to be more visually inclusive, with 7 in 10 respondents globally saying that it’s important that the companies they interact with celebrate diversity of all kinds.”
We’re all on a journey
Organisations will be at different points in their journey of improving diversity and inclusion and for many, aspirations may not reflect the present situation. So, how to avoid tokenism?
Emma Travers, Campaigns and Communications Co-ordinator for the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) notes that their membership isn’t as diverse as they would like it to be but it’s still important to diversify the images on their communication channels. Travers explains that, “one of the BMC’s values is to inspire hill walkers, climbers and mountaineers to get out on their own adventures, so the more diverse an audience we can inspire to do so, the better. The more broad our visual representation is, the more we can encourage and normalise the diversity we want reflected in the outdoors. But that ambition isn’t able to be transformed through visuals alone.
We weave EDI initiatives into the DNA of our organisation. As we continue to run, invest, support and platform events such as ClimbOut – Britain’s first LGBTQIA+ climbing festival – and our annual BMC Women In Adventure Film Competition, we capture photos and footage that further add authenticity to our image library.”
Other departments seeking to utilise media do so through the BMC’s marketing team, enabling them to monitor the images that are going out and ensure a balance in the range of people and activities represented.
Diverse creators help you stay on message
People who have experienced exclusion will spot and avoid businesses whose claims don’t ring true. Diversity of lived experience behind the camera is important for creating authentic storytelling that demonstrates a genuine commitment to inclusion.
Tabatha Fireman, founder of the image library ShotByWomen, and photography agency Female Perspective, works to increase the profile of talented women photographers. Fireman questions “how truthful a representation of our world can be when over 80% of the images viewed in the media come from a male point of view? If consumers’ daily habits or decisions are influenced by the saturation of the male gaze, imagine the potential of a more balanced perspective to improve the lives of this generation, and many more ahead.”
Getty Images have also responded to demand with their UK Citi DE&I Toolkit and other toolkits and collections. Philpot explains that these “are either informed by or created by the people they represent. The general public wants businesses to be transparent, honest and real.”
When real people are willing to share their stories, it resonates with audiences who want to feel a sense of belonging. Some organisations have taken a direct approach to work in co-production with minoritised communities to create image libraries that reflect their stories and priorities.
Joe Powell, Chief Executive of All Wales People First, describes the ambition of their photography project, ‘Through Our Eyes’, as a challenge to society’s attitudes towards people with learning disabilities. Powell said, “our genuine voice comes from the life experience of our members. It was important to us that the library of images produced reflected the experiences of the people the image was supposed to represent. That is the only true way to identify and challenge the barriers to inclusion that our members wanted to remove.”
Philpot reminds us that, “diversity does not guarantee talent retention. Employees, no matter their age, gender or ethnicity, need to be seen and be heard to feel they can thrive. This extends to the imagery and videos chosen for all communications. When visualising inclusion in the workplace, ask yourself, what is my business’s story? Are my visual choices aligned with the actions my business is taking (or wants to take)? What visual changes could I make to show that my organisation is serious about equity for all employees?”
Tips for improving your visual content
- Audit your visual content as part of your overall DEI strategy. Involve staff diversity networks and organisations or agencies with expertise to help you identify who and what is missing from your visual content.
- Embed diversity consistently across the business. Consistency is key to demonstrating a genuine commitment to inclusion. Ensure that your DEI and marketing teams work closely to embed diverse and inclusive visual content throughout your internal and external communications. This includes addressing accessibility features such as alt text, subtitles, image and audio descriptions.
- Engage diverse photographers and content creators. This will help you to develop a nuanced and intersectional approach to using images. Whether you commission general stock images, event photography or collaborate on a larger storytelling project, different perspectives behind the lens are vital to success.
- Include real people in day to day life and work situations. When you use images that resonate with your audience, they are more likely to feel included. Staged images can feel inauthentic and risk falling on stereotypes.
d&i Leaders is a global community of senior diversity, inclusion and HR focused professionals, looking to collaborate, network and accelerate their workplace inclusion strategy.