Earlier this month, Perfect Loop hosted an event during Seattle Startup Week called: How Leaders Build Diverse Teams.
A key theme, supported by all the panelists, was to encourage everyone to think of ways to make their workplace, their company, and their teams more inclusive on a daily basis - And to "call the bullshit out" when you see it.
Well, I found some steer manure as I searched through stock photos to use in our blog and advertising content. Photos are powerful. (Warning: Graphic Content) They can shape the narrative well beyond the words of a blog post.
The narrative power of photography is something we're expressly conscious of here at Perfect Loop. Our business is to find talent for other companies. Regardless of whatever the meat of a blog post might be, the photos we use with them need to be inclusive and diverse. Our story is as universal as it gets - we believe there is "A job for Everyone." The photos that go along with that vision therefore need to reflect that.
So what did I find in my stock photo download quest?
Some implicit bias, some sexism, and some blatant racism.
Implicit Bias: If I were on "auto-pilot" while downloading images of business meetings, I'd have a lot of photos that are as white as the cast of Friends. I had to write "Black," or "Asian," among several other descriptors to make sure that our collection of photos reflected the diversity of the country we live in. Otherwise look what happens when I searched "board meeting."
Literally the first search result:
In fact, of the first 18 results, only 1 had a person of color. Yikes. So I can easily see how a well-meaning, busy person could be projecting a less inclusive message without even realizing it by choosing the first or second result because it's there.
Sexism: Some of the descriptors used in the photo listing are jarring. "Pretty" or "gorgeous" was so often found in front of photos related to women in the workplace.
Being "pretty" is not what women bring to their jobs. It is their skill, their courage, their ideas, and flaws too, just like men. So perhaps women in a business setting should have a tag of the same stature as men? Tags like "Confident?"
Blatant Racism: It took the form of this description......
Why stage such a photo in the first place? One that plays out on such a prolific trope in American racism, that of the white woman who needs protection from an angry black man.
OK Now What?
This isn't just about expressing anger over the unjust world we live in. It's about calling out the injustice you see and doing something about it. You can in your day to day work life, even in something as mundane as finding stock photos, take practical steps to make your company and the world a more diverse and inclusive places. How?
1. Keep your mind open to racism/bias/sexism as you go about your day. Doing so will make you more empathetic and understanding of the bias other people experience daily. This practice is critical if you manage a team.
2. When you see "BS," do what you can about it. In my case? I was thoughtful about the photos I downloaded. I know that's not the most satisfying answer, but it's what I could do in that moment. I will also keep this in mind if I ever ask someone who reports to me to search through stock photos.
And, if there is a stock photo service that was designed to help companies project a more diverse and inclusive image, let me know ASAP.