Chipping away at bias: 11 questions communicators should ask themselves
by WordWrite Staff, on Oct 16, 2019
A football game made headlines recently. Well, yes, it’s football season, so what’s the big deal, you ask? This wasn’t just any football game. It was a game attended by both talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and President George W. Bush. Had it not been for the viral image taken of the two smiling and having a great time, the game itself would have passed without a whole lot of extra fanfare. Celebrities at a football game is nothing new.
The image prompted a nationwide, highly emotional, debate about diversity. Why? Because Ellen and George Bush are different, and some people simply couldn’t get over it.
Why would these two opposites choose to go to a game together?
How in the world could they be having fun?
Aren’t they supposed to dislike each other?
Aren’t we all supposed to dislike the [liberals, Democrats, Republicans…]?
Ellen is forgetting history…
Has George strayed from his values?
Sadly, for as much ground as we’ve gained over the past several decades, including desegregation, affirmative action and marriage rights for all, the progress has been very slow. We have a lot more work to do. In the wake of the social media spat, Ellen’s message of accepting people with beliefs and cultures that are different from our own is spot on. When we lead with empathy, we look past our differences and embrace what makes us all the same: we’re humans.
For communicators today, this presents a significant challenge, but also an incredible opportunity to take a stand by chipping away at biases. As companies large and small work to embrace cultures of diversity and inclusion, we must think differently about how we approach everything we do and write. Content should reflect the diversity of the communities we serve. Just as employees, customers, stakeholders, elected officials and members of the news media represent all races, backgrounds, religions and lifestyles, so, too, should our content. What in the past was simply checking a box to make sure our photos represented different genders and colors is now a table stake. It’s a given. We have to do more.
Ditching the boxes and fully immersing ourselves in a diverse and inclusive mindset is the only way we can affect change. Children and youth are watching everything we do. Their focus is on what’s happening now and what’s next, not what happened over a decade ago. When they see others sharing, caring and being kind, they are more likely to do the same. When they witness anger, resentment, fear and discontent, they will share the same feelings.
As we write and share stories with our customers, our employees and others, we need to adopt new thinking, asking ourselves questions like:
- Have I considered how this message will resonate with all members of our audience?
- Am I surrounded only by people who are just like me?
- What steps have I taken, or can I take, to learn about others?
- Have I actually met the people to whom I’m directing my message?
- Is there an expert I haven’t considered who could offer a different perspective?
- Am I bringing my own bias (conscious or unconscious) to this project? How can I fix this?
- Have I shared this with someone else for feedback?
- What internal and external resources can help me be more inclusive?
- What does all of this mean for our company? Have I properly conveyed that in my message?
- Are all of the experts I’m quoting or featuring the same? If so, how can I fix this?
- Have I checked the calendar? Is there a holiday or event I should be aware of before scheduling this meeting?
- What can I do to make this communication better for everyone?
Being kind and inclusive is not naïve. It’s the right thing to do. We can’t change history, but we can have an impact on the future — our youth. Leading by example in everything we do both inside and outside the office, in our written materials and in our speeches, and when interacting with our peers and colleagues, is how we can pave the way for a more diverse and inclusive world.
Even if not everyone agrees with George’s decisions or Ellen’s lifestyle, we should all be able to celebrate a moment when two different people came together in kindness and joy. We need to multiply those moments, not divide them.