A Conversation with the Editor of The Diversity Style Guide
It is important for communicators to acknowledge and respect diversity, address unconscious biases over time, and advance an inclusive culture by using inclusive content.
To help us better understand inclusive content, I sat down with Rachele Kanigel, chair and professor of the journalism department at San Francisco State University and editor of The Diversity Style Guide, following our June 29 program. Here is an edited recap of our conversation.
Joseph Dawson (JD): To help ground us all, what is inclusive content?
Rachele Kanigel (RK): Inclusive content – words and images – aims to make people feel seen and heard. It avoids expressions, stereotypes and imagery that exclude, demean, or discriminate against certain people – particularly those from marginalized groups – and consciously tries to fairly represent people who are often left out.
JD: What are your top three inclusive content best practices?
RK: Here are three recommendations.
First, accept that language and culture are constantly changing. It’s important to stay up to date and be open to the natural evolution of language. We can all think of offensive or out of date terms, that were once widely used – words like “sexual preference” and “crippled.” Other terms are going through similar transitions now and we need to be aware of these cultural and linguistic changes. This is not about being “politically correct.” It’s about being sensitive, yes, but it’s also about being accurate and current. If you use the wrong pronoun when referring to a non-binary or transgender person, you’re not just being insensitive, you’re being inaccurate. If you say a person is “confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair bound,” you’re mischaracterizing that person. People who use wheelchairs aren’t confined to those chairs; they are liberated by them.
Next,whenever possible, ask. Ask people what pronouns they use. If it’s relevant to mention race or disability or housing status or another diversity dimension, ask what people want to be called or what terms they use or prefer. People have strong feelings about their identities, and it’s important to use the right terminology. It can be hard to ask these questions, but most people appreciate being asked and getting some say in how they are described.
Finally, look for images that break stereotypes and offer more authentic representation. A lot of stock photos and imagery used in media today include people of different races, but that’s often where the diversity and inclusion ends. When do you see women wearing hijabs, people in wheelchairs, or people with Down syndrome in media unless the content is specifically about religion or disability? What about interracial couples or same-sex couples with children? Content creators should include people who are often left out of the story.
JD: As a follow-up, what are your recommendations for communicators to embed inclusive content best practices into their organizations?
RK: Seek resources and share them with your staff. The Diversity Style Guide is a good place to start because it offers links to many other resources, but there are others out there, like the Conscious Style Guide, Race Forward’s Race Reporting Guide, and the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s 100 Questions and Answers series that includes guides on Arab Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, African Americans, American Jews, gender identity, veterans, Indian Americans, immigrants and other groups.
Train your staff on inclusive language or bring in someone to do it.
Finally, develop a style guide or revise the one you have.
JD: On June 29, you educated us on the current state of inclusive content, but I want to take a moment to think about the future. How can communicators stay on top of the latest trends? What resources should they follow?
RK: I recommend communication professionals discuss inclusive content style on a regular basis.
Organizations like the National Center on Disability and Journalism, GLAAD, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, NLGJA, the Association of LGBTQ Journalists and others offer style guides and other resources. In addition, the Associated Press frequently updates its widely used Stylebook, which is now in its 55th edition.
Joseph Dawson is the co-chair of PRSA NCC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. He serves as a Strategic Communications Director at Freddie Mac focused on HR, diversity, equity and inclusion messaging.
Rachele Kanigel is a professor and chair of the journalism department at San Francisco State University, and editor of The Diversity Style Guide, a book and website to help journalists and communications professionals write with accuracy and authority about a diverse world. She works with media organizations, corporations and nonprofits to consult with and train communications professionals in inclusive content.