By Danielle Gudakunst
Diversity can mean different things to different people, and it’s constantly changing.
To help us keep up with the changing face of diversity, Stacy Brooks of the American Physiological Society, Melanie Padgett Powers of MelEdits, and Damita Snow of the American Society of Civil Engineers shared their experiences and knowledge during AM&P’s 2018 Annual Meeting.
The session, “Advancing Diversity & Inclusion through Content,” highlighted how writers, editors, and other media and publishing professionals can help membership organizations stay progressive by incorporating diversity and inclusion into both their content strategy and their staff composition.
For membership organizations, diversity among contributors is key. To connect and engage, members need to see themselves as included in the organization. For instance, think of an entry-level woman reading a magazine entirely authored by men at the pinnacle of their careers or a person of color watching videos that only feature people who are white.
Your contributors should represent your real and potential members. Consider asking colleagues or committee members to recommend authors or contributors from under-represented groups they might know. Solicit contributors via a newsletter or social media to draw a more diverse group.
Pay attention to the diversity (or lack thereof) in speakers and panels at events. People are often willing to add a co-speaker or change a panel member if you point out the lack of diversity.
For many of us in AM&P, content is king. It’s what drives us — and keeps us employed. But like contributors, our members need to be able to connect and engage with the content for it to be of value.
Take a page from the American Physiological Society’s book and seek out content that speaks to diverse communities and provides nuanced angles. Not all of your members have the same experiences or worldviews, so make sure your content reflects that.
Stick to a positive tone. Members who connect closely to the author or featured person in a negative story might feel they are not viewed as positive contributors to the organization or industry.
To further enhance diverse content or messaging, accompany it with diverse imagery. If the member photos available don’t portray the diversity you’re seeking, considering a dual-image format that allows you to mix and match member photos and stock photos.
In addition to racial and gender diversity, consider inclusive stock images that are more nuanced and that more of your readers can relate to. For instance, a fitness article that only portrays thin or extremely muscular people might turn off readers who don’t have those physiques. Stock photos are often a better fit for social media than author photos.
According to Powers, the best editors know how to put their audience first, which ties into one of the key rules of inclusive language: people first. Inclusive language focuses on the person, and if the person’s disability or other condition is relevant, uses phrases like “person with a disability.” Even better, be specific: “person with cerebral palsy.”
A particular concern in inclusive language is how to handle the discussion or reporting of sexual harassment, especially in the #MeToo era. A few tips:
Avoid sloppy reporting and defamation.
Use correct legal definitions.
Get the facts right and be as specific as possible. Be careful; minor details can open the way for mistrust or doubt.
Avoid negative terms like scandal.
Stay away from young woman — does it matter?
*Tip: Avoiding female gender bias
Want to make sure your article about a person who happens to be female doesn’t include gender bias? Use the Finkbeiner Test, a checklist proposed by journalist Christie Aschwanden to help journalists avoid gender bias in media articles about women in science. To pass the test, an article about a female scientist must not mention:
- That she is a woman
- Her husband's job
- Her childcare arrangements
- How she nurtures her underlings
- How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
- How she is a role model for other women
- How she's the "first woman to..."
Inclusive language isn’t just applicable to gender or disabilities:
Avoid defining someone by their generation.
Ask people for their preferred pronouns.
If a person’s name has accent marks, be sure to use them.
Use “undocumented,” not “illegal.”
Don’t use “mother” to describe a pregnant woman unless you are talking about a specific person.
Even if content is diverse and inclusive, it isn’t useful to audiences who cannot access it, whether that’s due to physical barriers, cultural barriers, or other accessibility challenges. Using technology provides a way to make more content accessible to more people, but it’s only effective if used properly.
Alt tags or alt text: Readers with sight impairments might use a read-aloud tool that reads the content off the screen to them. Alt text tells the tool what to read when it comes across an image. To be effective, alt text needs to be descriptive and provide context. Don’t be vague and don’t just repeat the captions.
Closed Captioning: Video is a great way to share content, but viewers can miss out on key messaging if it’s only conveyed via audio. By including closed captioning, you ensure that all viewers can access the information, including those with hearing impairments, those in spaces where audio is disruptive (e.g., train or library), and those who might have difficulty understanding the speaker’s accent or dialect.
Fun Fact: 80 percent of people who use closed captioning are not deaf or hard of hearing.
Websites: In addition to features like alt text, consider other ways to mitigate potentially problematic features of your association website. Do many of your members speak different languages or hail from different countries? Add a translation tool to your website. Are your members likely to have trouble reading small text? Make it easy to zoom in on the website. Are your members constantly on the move? Make sure the website is mobile-friendly.
According to Snow, inclusive leaders deliberately seek out different voices and equity in contributions to content. Inclusive leaders also have six common traits: cognizance, commitment, cultural intelligence, courage, curiosity, and collaboration. Inclusive leaders are aware of their own biases and check their assumptions at the door.
Hiring: As an inclusive leader, help new employees adjust to the workplace environment and culture. Introduce them to the whole organization and invest in a robust onboarding process. Be sure to reach out often to employees, especially recent hires, and share local resources to help them find their niche if they are new to the locale.
Managing: As a manager, it is your responsibility to foster an inclusive environment by accepting employees’ life choices, nurturing different points of view, educating your team (and yourself), taking information from multiple sources, and addressing inappropriate comments or conduct. Look for ways to make diversity a deliberate part of the workplace, like diversity calendars; forums or lunch and learns on diversity, inclusion, or different cultures; and staff talent appreciation initiatives.
Fun Fact: The World Day for Diversity is May 21.
Developing a truly diverse and inclusive organization and publication takes deliberate effort, honest reflection, and often, uncomfortable conversations. However, it’s imperative that we, as membership organizations, promote the diversity and inclusion that our members (and staff) expect and deserve.
Danielle Gudakunst is managing editor for The Police Chief, the magazine of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Association Media & Publishing thanks Danielle for her stellar job covering this session from the AM&P Annual Meeting for our members who were unable to attend.