Use These Stock Photos, and Other Actions for Allies

Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

Four individuals at a work table, sharing information on their laptops
Four individuals at a work table, sharing information on their laptops
Photo: CC BY 3.0 US Mapbox Uncharted ERG

1. Use stock photos of underrepresented people

I was thrilled to see that tech company Mapbox released “Queer in Tech,” a free collection of stock photos created by their employee resources program. From their announcement:

“We created this photo set to promote the visibility of queer and gender-nonconforming (GNC) people in technology, who are often under-represented as workers powering the creative, technical, and business leadership of groundbreaking tech companies and products.”

Here’s the thing. Each time we use stock photos featuring people from underrepresented groups in our slide decks, blog posts, or event announcements, we can help bust stereotypes of what an engineer or other professional role “looks like.”

To help you find stock photos to use, I’ve curated a list of sites that specialize in increasing the visibility of women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with differing abilities. Some are free, some are for a fee. Check them out here.

2. Don’t blame the work/family narrative

In What’s Really Holding Women Back?, professors Robin J. Ely and Irene Padavic explore a common explanation for why companies have trouble retaining women and promoting them into senior positions. They call it the work/family narrative. It goes like this: High-level jobs require extremely long hours, women’s devotion to family makes it impossible for them to put in those hours, and their careers suffer as a result.

While I recommend reading the full article, here’s one critical point for allies. The work/family narrative is an all-too-common scapegoat for a lack of gender diversity. Better (a lot better) is to look for a core, underlying problem. As the data at one firm revealed,

“The real culprit was a general culture of overwork that hurt both men and women and locked gender inequality in place.”

If your organization oversells and rewards overdelivering and overwork, how will you start to change the culture?

3. Avoid gendered tagging of images

This past week, Google announced that their AI algorithms will no longer tag images as “woman” or “man,” and instead use gender-neutral terms like “person.” They made this change because a person’s gender cannot be inferred by appearance.

While I don’t develop algorithms (or haven’t in a long time), I can apply this same approach to images in my blog posts and social media posts. Specifically, I can avoid using gendered labels like “woman” or “man” in HTML ALT tags, which I use to describe the image for visually impaired users.

Instead, I can describe someone in an image as simply a “person” or “human.”

4. Plus, tag your images

Here’s one more thing about photos and other images on social media and web sites, regardless of whether there’s a human in the image or not. Keep in mind that people may use assistive technology such as screen readers. To help them understand what your images depict, be sure to add descriptions with ALT tags. Every. Single. Time.

5. Address racial slurs as harassment

In a recent lawsuit filed against Tesla, DeWitt Lambert, who is black, reported that co-workers would frequently use racial slurs, including calling him the N-word. The arbitrator hired by Tesla to resolve the case decided the slurs weren’t racist. Instead, they were “consistent with lyrics and images commonly found in rap songs and freestyle rap competitions.”

I believe racial slurs are offensive and should be treated as workplace harassment. How about you?

— Karen Catlin, Founder and Author of Better Allies

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Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies™ approach.

Everyday actions to create inclusive, engaging workplaces. Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies® approach.

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