I’ve been involved lately in a fascinating program for creative entrepreneurs, and so far we’ve heard from a couple of speakers at some big-name technology companies about building values and culture in a start up environment.
As you’d expect, their talks were accompanied by slides, slides full of smiling or deeply concentrating faces of their staff in various value-driven culture-bulldimg activities. Or, sometimes, working at their jobs.
As you might also expect, the speakers’ discussion of values and culture touched on the importance diversity, with one naming every type of diversity he could think of – ethnic, gender, sexuality, disability.
He didn’t mention age, and I’d be amazed, and want to request skin care routines, if any of the people in his slides were over 35. There were no obvious signs of visible disability.
At least in that company, which focuses on graphic design, a decent percentage of the pictures featured women. I’m being generous if I guess that the pictures of the other one, a more techy tech company, were 90% male.
I have no knowledge of the actual makeup of these companies’ employee pools or any work they’re doing to improve diversity. There are longstanding structural reasons why fewer women enter tech fields. Maybe older workers are priced out of the tech startup job market (I say dubiously). Actual diversity and what to do about it is a huge discussion that isn’t this discussion.
In terms of communications, which is this discussion, the pictures the speakers chose to display told a different story from what was coming out of their mouths.
Neither seemed aware of the disconnect between their talk of values and culture and the lack of diversity in their images, and neither mentioned any work toward increasing diversity – it was presented as an existing part of the culture, baked in when they were wee startups.
One showed a group of employees all dressed as Steve Jobs – jeans, black turtleneck – to show their culture-building fun. It had the unintended consequence of underlining the similarities, unfair as that might be.
I’m not naming and shaming these companies because how often do we all make presentations and pick whatever images we can dig up to avoid Death By PowerPoint bullet point tragedies? Or that we think are fun but to an outsider suggest something else? Or when picking images for websites, articles, posters, how many times do we think of a diversity tickbox that has only one item: ethnic diversity? Are our pictures representing our audience?
In our image selection process and in our writing and editing process, we really need to consider the story our images are telling separately from our words. There are excellent ways to use surprising or subversive images – as long as the surprise or subversion is on purpose.
As careful as we are to say what we mean, we need to make sure our images complement rather than contradict us.