A sense of belonging: The importance of inclusive imagery and language

7th April 2022
Sue Johnson
Managing Partner & Head of Practice

A sense of belonging: The importance of inclusive imagery and language

The language and imagery used by an organisation has the power to shape and define the workplace culture and sets the tone externally for potential employees and customers to assess “is this the right brand/organisation for me”. That’s why it’s so critical to be mindful of the words and images we use in our websites, policies and communications are so central to inclusion. Here, Sue Johnson, Managing Partner of I&D Consultancy at Odgers Berndtson explains why it’s not just what we communicate, but how, the words and images we choose to get our message across.

Inclusive Imagery

They say a picture may be worth a thousand words, but not all pictures are created equal. As an organisation, it can be difficult to select imagery that accurately reflects your culture and the world in which we work. To do so requires looking beyond the borders of stereotypes and our established biases and perceptions.

Most of the photos we see in the media feature primarily Caucasian (or white) people who are typically young, attractive, straight, and able-bodied. And if the photos are meant to portray strength, power, leadership, or heroism, the main subject is usually male. This archetype serves as our “default,” as if it is what we are meant to strive for. Obviously, most of us do not fit this description, and real people are much more diverse than what media channels projects. White people are most often depicted as the “main” characters, with minorities, underrepresented groups, people with disabilities, and sometimes women, shown as supporting characters.

6 guiding principles for inclusive imagery

  • Use images of real people, ideally your employees
  • Demonstrate realistic diversity, not stereotypes
  • Reflect the diversity of your audience
  • Check your blindspots – non-obvious negative connotations, stereotypes, cultural inaccuracies, or associations
  • Use metrics to assess where and how you can improve
  • Take action when receiving feedback

If you only ask yourself one question, perhaps the most important is “Who is missing?”, underrepresented, marginalised groups of people are most often excluded from the images we see. If they do appear, they are often represented in a stereotypical way. For example, when photographing a team, the leader tends to be placed in the middle of the group.

Inclusive Language

Through using Inclusive language, it demonstrates to your customers, clients, service-users and members that you practise what’s written in your policies. It brings paper-based statements to life, resulting in increased trust with your audience.

In 2018 a Deloitte Millennial Survey showed that there is a “very strong correlation between perceptions of workforce diversity and loyalty”. 

  • 69% of employees working at organisations they perceive as diverse intended to remain there for at least five years, thus reducing recruitment costs.
  • Candidates will often turn down opportunities because of the impression formed by language that is used in interviews. Language used reflects whether workplace adjustments and support will be put in place.
  • Candidates stated they can often tell whether an organisation has clear policies just through the tone and phrasing recruitment panels use.

5 guiding principles for inclusive language

  • Keep an open mind; Be open to changing what you (or others) have aways thought is normal, respectful and appropriate to say. Be in contact with the communities you are writing for
  • Avoid idioms, jargon, anacronyms
  • Follow the “People first” principle https://service-manual.nhs.uk/content/inclusive-language
  • Use Neutral language, be aware of using predominantly agentic or communal language
  • Carry out a native speaker language check prior to publication

I&D Consultancy from Odgers Berndtson

You probably know Odgers Berndtson as an Executive Recruitment firm, the largest in the UK. Our mission is to leave no stone unturned in providing our clients with diverse and highly competent candidates for roles which shape our society.

Recruitment, however, is only one step of the journey to being Inclusive and Diverse, put simply you need to get, then promote and retain talent. If your culture is not Inclusive, then any new hires that are not enabled to be themselves will swiftly exit to organisations that embrace this.

Our Inclusion & Diversity Consultancy is:

  • Delivered by team members who have worked in I&D roles around the globe.
  • Action orientated, supplemented with tactics, tools and tips on how to make Inclusion a reality within your business.
  • Conscious of the context of your organisation, we have worked with clients cross-industry and cross-border.
  • A combined, evidence based qualitative and quantitative approach to this business challenge.

Click here to find out more

Categories: I&D