We think we can all agree, we’re in a time of change in our culture. At least here in America, there is now a heightened awareness — long overdue — of how behaviors of some affect others. We’ve all seen the nonstop headlines of unexcusable treatment of women and some men too by those in power. This comes after the Black Lives Matter movement which even though it’s not pulling headlines right now has not gone away. Inequality is real and many people suffer on the daily based on outdated ideas and imbalances in the dynamics of our world, and wrongs perpetuated by individuals. Just recently we saw the incredibly bad H&M hoodie and ad that caused The Weeknd to drop his association with the company. We’re not going to post the awful original but here’s the one that Diddy reconstructed:
Put some respect on it!! When you look at us make sure you see royalty and super natural God sent glory!! Anything else is disrespectful. pic.twitter.com/QVaxgngwh1
— Diddy (@Diddy) January 8, 2018
One reason that individuals can get away with behaving so badly against another individual is because the culture perpetuates incorrect ideas about groups of people, and often this happens in the most subtle and easily-unnoticed ways.
Here are two examples:
To its credit, the WaPo responded really fast. Here is the updated headline that showed up on their site within about 30 minutes:
And they acknowledged it on Twitter too:
It reminds us of the Bechdel test which is used on films to examine the role of women characters.
The other example was also corrected before we could do a screengrab on it so we’ll just describe the problem. It was a blog post from another MBA admissions resource (not a school) that used this photo:
The headline was something like: “Applying to bschool? Make sure your background check comes back clean”
When we saw that hit our feed, honestly, we stopped and stared at it for a good five minutes trying to decide what to do. Thankfully when going back another day to write about it, it had been changed.
Obviously that’s a stock photo, but we cannot imagine ANY REASON to use that photo in a positive way. The only reason to use that photo would be to talk about how you DON’T want to work at a company or go to a school that looks like that. The only “diversity” there is one woman looks older. It’s possible that the woman facing away from the camera is a POC but geez. What’s the point of that photo in modern life???
If you’re building an ad campaign — or a social media post — please be aware of the imagery you select — and please re-read the message that you’ve developed for that image. An all-white group of people in suits and an exhortation that you need to be “clean” like them? REALLY??
We’re certain that nobody set out to write a biased headline or choose an unfortunate image (and to be clear, the photo itself is not the problem; it’s not a great choice and we cannot see any point in using it for anything, but on its own it’s not “wrong” or whatever to use it — it’s the combo with the headline that was the issue). Selecting that photo and writing that headline together, or writing a headline about the famous male writer without naming his female co-writer, is accidental. Whoever did each of those tasks probably does not even believe that he or she is biased (it could just as easily have been a woman who wrote either, including the WaPo headline; these are not automatically things done only by men). This is what’s called hidden bias or unintentional bias or unconscious bias. It just happens — you didn’t mean any harm — but you didn’t think about it and because you’re white, or male, or older and set in your ways, or whatever identity that you associate with that enjoys its position of power in the world — or even if you’re NOT in a position of power, but you’ve been CONDITIONED by the power structures that exist in the world — you simply didn’t notice.
The not noticing is where it perpetuates.
As a soon-to-be-leader in your field — which we presume you will be based on your interest in going to bschool and advancing your career so profoundly — YOU are the one who is responsible for a) NOTICING these things, and b) PREVENTING them.
How can it be that nobody at H&M in either their design department, or their product development department, or their production department, or their marketing department, or the person taking the god dam photograph of that cute kid, did NOT NOTICE THAT THE PRODUCT WAS EFFED UP??
How can that be??????
Don’t let that happen on your watch.
As they say, When you see something, say something.
And oh yeah: Are you interested in learning about the background check as part of your MBA application process? We go into it in the Accepted Student’s Guide!!
UPDATE: Do you create social media content for a corporation? This came across our twitter feed recently — it’s a bunch of royalty free pics of women of color in tech running meetings and stuff. Just be sure to attribute “WOCinTech Chat” if you use any!