4 Key Strategies for Making Inclusive Images

April 11, 2023

Since 2020, a diverse workforce has become a critical factor for job seekers evaluating potential employers.

According to Glassdoor, more than 3 out of 4 job seekers and current employees (76%) consider a diverse workforce to be an important factor in their career considerations. So, if you’re not paying attention to your DEI journey and messaging, candidates are! 

Last year, I teamed up with Claire Turk, our Senior Manager of Creative Services, to reimagine and redesign five common DEI visuals that were just past their prime. Of course, that was just the tip of the iceberg and DEI is an iterative journey. So, in the spirit of continuous learning, here are four more ways to level up your DEI imagery and visuals.  

1. Don't Fake Diversity, Ever!

When depicting the diverse audiences or potential talent you want to appeal to, it's a good idea to be as diverse as possible. There's incredible value and power in representation. However, it's never a good thing to misrepresent your team's demographics or where you are in your DEI journey.  Be honest about your progress and where you are today, while highlighting how you're working on it!   

Be especially introspective and realistic about external-facing and promotional imagery and photos, like marketing or recruiting materials. You want to ensure that you are accurately representing the organizational makeup of your company today, not what you aspire to be.   

For example, if your engineering team is mostly white, don't showcase the only two BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) team members as reflective of the larger team or use stock images to suggest your team is more diverse than it actually is. You run the risk of losing the trust of current team members who might feel like they're part of a ruse (more on that in the next section). 

Not to mention the new hires who will be left feeling disillusioned and lied to once they join the team. In general, people like knowing what they’re signing up for, and company culture is more important than ever in the wake of the Great Resignation. A 2019 study found that 74% of American workers would have no problem looking for new opportunities if the culture at their current company deteriorates or starts to clash with their values.  

Learn Why Your New Hire Retention Begins Before Onboarding

2. Avoid Tokenism  

Though it might seem like a good idea to spotlight certain team members because of their membership in BIPOC or marginalized communities in promotional or recruiting materials, the role should not be forced upon or expected of them.

In fact, it's a best practice to avoid asking specific team members to be the spokespeople for their groups or communities, though you can certainly ask for their personal opinion. Otherwise, the added responsibility can create additional pressure and stress on tokenized individuals or groups, and can lead to disillusionment, embitterment and burnout

Repeatedly focusing on just a few team members or groups can also be harmful as it can create or strengthen stereotypes by providing a limited scope and representation of that community. Focusing on just a few individuals or groups ignores the others, alienating and driving away talent coming from other, less visible or less promoted communities.   

If a team member raises their hand to be spotlighted, make sure they’re taking on this role because they want to, not because they feel like they must. In the end, diversity is a collaborative undertaking that requires everyone's participation and should not be left to the efforts of a few. 

Read our blog about avoiding the pitfalls of Black History Month

3. Trendy Isn't Always A Good Thing  

Performative DEI messaging and imagery for the sake of following a trend, especially around heritage, history and awareness months, is just that: performative.

A lot of companies tend to jump on the bandwagon fearing they might seem out of touch if they don't. In reality, the outward demonstration of support or allyship without any meaningful action behind it is worse. It's hard to trust an organization that's all talk and no walk.  

Trend-following and empty allyship has blown up in the faces of major companies when employees get wind of performative messaging. 

In 2020, board members of San Francisco Pride (SF Pride) voted to ban Google and Youtube from their annual Pride parade celebrations. Those supporting the ban, which includes some of Google’s workforce, said the company isn’t doing enough to protect LGBTQ+ users from hate speech on their platforms, an inaction in direct contradiction to their branded Pride floats and presence in Pride celebrations.   

Overall, colorful and festive logos create the illusion that diversity has been "achieved" or "resolved" – no such thing! DEI is a journey and the work needs to be deep, action-oriented, constant and consistent to be impactful – far more than just words, a logo color change or sponsoring a float can do.    

More brilliance on this topic: 

4. Don't Forget About Accessibility!   

When thinking of DEI, accessibility and non-visible disabilities are often forgotten.  This is especially the case when it comes to visuals and design. For example:

  • Could your logo be difficult to parse for some?  
  • Might your slides or marketing materials prove difficult to read for others?  
  • Do your images have descriptions coded in for screen readers?  
  • Are closed captioning and transcripts readily available for promotional videos?   

If these questions aren't being asked and explored in your organization, they should be!

Considering accessibility as a fundamental part of not only the DEI space, but your employee experience, can help broaden the talent pool and create a more welcoming and accessible workspace. Take, for example, colorblindness.

According to EnChroma, the folks that created glasses for colorblindness (and are responsible for those tear-jerking viral videos of people seeing color for the very first time), there are an estimated 300 million people in the world with colorblindness, which to put in perspective, is the population of the United States!    

More astonishingly, they found 90% of color-blind people say their colorblindness affects them at work and 75% of color-blind people report needing help verifying colors from coworkers. With 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women living with colorblindness, it would be unwise to leave such a large portion of the talent pool out of your DEI imagery and visual considerations.   

Use labels, distinguishing icons or textures and patterns, rather than just color, to show contrast. There’s also a growing number of color blindness simulators that can be used in combination with rethinking design elements. Don’t know where to start? Consider the impact of rethinking making your careers page accessibility, rewriting your job posts to be more inclusive, and reimaginning your your company meetings and town halls for accessibility.

Read about accessible career sites

Walk your talk, internally *and* externally 

You can’t fake-it-’til-you-make it in DEI. So avoid jumping on flashy, but performative, messaging. Steer clear of tokenism to mitigate causing harm to the tokenized individual or group. Broaden your horizons when it comes to DEI beyond what's visible and consider accessibility and non-visible disabilities in your strategy.

In the end, it's more important to be honest and realistic about your organization’s DEI progress and stance than it is to follow trends. Be introspective and sincere about where you are -- and where you aren’t, yet! Achieving diversity, equity and inclusion is a massive undertaking of continuous education, systemic change, and iterative improvement, so it’s ok that it’s a work in progress.  

The importance of eye-catching and engaging imagery is not lost on us communicators. The right – or wrong – visual can help strengthen – or obliterate – a message. In showcasing DEI commitments and progress, the role of captivating and smart visuals is no less important. If you need help rethinking your visuals, or even your communications, we're here to help. 

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