Your Corporate Images Should Work for You, Not Against You

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It’s hard to argue that you’re an inclusive organisation, one that promotes diversity in all its forms, or an event organiser that seeks diverse views on a variety of issues, when the images you use to promote your “words” tell a different story.

An image is worth 1,000 words, just as much as deeds beat any blurb on any owned, shared or paid media platform.

An interesting thing happened last week. I came across a “chest beating” / “look at us” post on LinkedIn. I shared it and asked a fairly innocent question: “What’s missing from this picture?”. I got a mouthful in reply, funnily enough from someone I never expected to – this organisation’s Chairman.

That’s absolutely fine and I had/have no problem with it. What I do have a problem with is that still, unfortunately, not many organisations understand that their images/videos should totally reflect the values they claim they have, the openness and inclusivity they promote, the willingness to have an open and constructive dialogue with all their publics.

In this particular case, that didn’t happen. If it had been a standalone case, I would have understood – but it certainly wasn’t/isn’t.

The energy industry, in particular the oil and gas sector, is throwing money at recruiting more women engineers / technical experts like there is no tomorrow. The “words” used by various businesses and industry specific organisations are sadly seldom matched by the immensely powerful and contradictory visuals from various events and conferences:

Photo credit: Balmoral Offshore Engineering

The finance sector is no stranger to the dichotomy between words and actions. This is an image of Canada’s Investor Leadership Network taken at Davos earlier this year:

Photo credit: Pension Pulse

And I could continue with hundreds of similar examples.

There is nothing wrong with having an all male / women panel, or a male/female only leadership structure, nor with having an all white/black/Asian management team.

After all, businesses are run based on competency and ability to deliver not on their diversity and inclusion ratio – and whether we like it or not, this is the truth.

However, like my very good social media friend Advita Patel said so eloquently and beautifully:

[…] this photo doesn’t fill me with hope that this business would welcome someone like me. It doesn’t make me feel like I’d be heard. It wouldn’t encourage me to look further into the organisation or understand what they are about – I would have just scrolled past without a second glance as it doesn’t relate to me.

Also just because there is a woman CEO or a member of the board is from a BAME background doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an inclusive culture – it’s like saying “I’m not racist I have an Asian friend!”

The lessons? Simple:

  1. The fact that there is a woman / minority figurehead in an organisation (CEO, Chairman, MD) this does not make an organisation inclusive and open to diversity. Unless proved by actual actions / deeds, from a diversity and inclusion perspective they are just a poster boy / girl.
  2. “Unedited” and “unrehearsed” social media reactions to comments or criticisms (see the example above), especially from those in a leadership position, can cost an organisation dearly. A very well crafted corporate “image” can be simply shattered in a matter of seconds.
  3. Don’t speak or boast, as an organisation or its leader, about how inclusive or diverse you are and how you promote this and that. Put yourself in our shoes and look from the outside in: what do you see (not what do you “read”)?
  4. Don’t attend male only / female only events or panels. Do not try to justify diversity and inclusion by promoting discrimination of any kind, albeit positive discrimination or not. I, for one, simply refuse to attend “women only” events of any kind.
  5. Prove you really stand by your words and even if you don’t organise that “very important” event / conference, simply challenge the organisers by asking whether in that entire sector there is not a single bright woman/man who could join the panel/speakers list and authoritatively speak about that topic.

Diversity and inclusion are a state of mind first, and of physical and mental acceptance second.

If you genuinely believe that a Brit/American is brighter than an African/Asian, or that a woman can never be as good at nuclear physics as a man can, or that women cannot be as good a car mechanic as a man can, then how can you ever claim you do not discriminate and the organisation you lead is inclusive and diverse?

As for the basics of reputational risk response which all CEOs and Chairmen of any organisation should master, when someone criticises your visual aids, a far better response and reaction would be to simply say “Blimey! We’ll do better next time. Thank you for pointing this out”.

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