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Who are you alienating with your communications?

Do you ever look at communications published by organisations and wonder what on earth they were thinking? Sometimes you gasp and think how can several people have thought that this was the way to communicate with people. And sometimes news stories and media storms happen which speak to exactly the work you have been doing. It has been so clear to see over the last year that so many organisations are lacking diversity in their teams which leads to clumsy, often offensive communications.

Exhibit A – Stay At Home

UK government image – now withdrawn

The government caused outrage in a recent campaign. They wanted to reinforce the message that people should stay at home to be safe. Instead of reinforcing that message, they reinforced sexist stereotypes and were forced to withdraw the advert. The graphic showed women doing all of the domestic chores, and the only man featured was sitting and relaxing on a sofa. If this is the perception of women the government think is acceptable, it’s no wonder that the Fawcett Society have found that the pandemic is having a devastating effect on gender equality in the workplace.  Add to this the chancellor’s comments about women being the ones entirely responsible for childcare, and you start to understand how many of the policy decisions are made.

What is completely clear is that they were lacking thinking from different perspectives in the team who created the graphic. And they managed to alienate a huge percentage of the population. MP Yvette Cooper tweeted “A message from the government to the nation’s women and girls!! In 2021. Turns out 1950s sexism is spreading fast too.” I watched aghast and wondered who agreed the concept, who designed it, who agreed the design, who signed it off for publishing, and many other steps and people who would have been involved in signing off something like this? How could no one have seen the problem? Could it be that they are lacking diversity in the people involved in each step of the process?

Alienating your audience

This is not the only example I can find on the internet of communications put together and published which alienate people. There are organisations all around the world who do this by not thinking about their audience and reflecting that in the people who make decisions. As Caroline Criado Perez points out through examples in her book Invisible Women, if you want to sell a product, service or idea to women, for example, then you need to include women in the teams making the decisions.

Lack of diversity in teams making decisions leads to stereotypes being enforced. And we see this everywhere, it’s not just stereotypes about women. There are stereotypes about men, about people from different nationalities, races, ages, abilities, personalities and so on. Homogenous groups of people by their very nature will not think carefully about the different types of people in potential audiences and markets.

It’s replicated everywhere we look too.  If you search on the internet for images using phrases like ‘CEO’ or ‘Senior Manager’ you will mostly see images of the same demographic of people. If you look at most advertising and communications, they show similar images of what a family should look like, what women should do, and wear and so on.

What happens with this failure to speak to the varied audiences? Well businesses and organisations who want to reach these target audiences switch them off. Completely switch them off. If I see a brand with sexist advertising or racist communications, I immediately stop following anything they do, and I am not the only one who does that. So if you fail to think about the audience and create communications to appeal to them, you will fail. In the case of the government they switched many people off the serious message they need to communicate to stay at home.

If you look at the demographics of most companies, it’s easy to see why this is the case. With most decisions made in teams that are 38% male, with no Directors in the FTSE 100 who are from an ethnic minority. One in Five business leaders are apprehensive about employing someone with a disability in a leadership role. This list goes on; ageism is commonplace, particularly for women as they age, young people talk about the struggle to be taken seriously when they enter the workplace. In short, we have a society ruled by dominant groups and that is translated into the way we are communicated to. Which in turn results in many people feeling alienated from communications they see.

Communicating to reach people

This is why inclusion matters and why you must look at how you are communicating to people, and think about how to include everyone and reach everyone. This is no ‘nice to have’ or ‘soft skills’ or something you can pass onto a junior person in your organisation to do on top of their day job. This needs resourcing and effort, and time put into it.

So what can we you about this? Well for a start, organisations need to think about who is involved in their communications teams. Then there needs to be an ‘audit’. Look at everything from images to words, to videos and more. And think about what Is being portrayed in what you see. Then think about what you see and hear from different perspectives. Not as easy as it sounds is it?

That’s where we come in. We do an audit of your communications and look at where we can see a need for improvements and change. We have a proven method we use to look at every aspect of your communication and show you where you have problems and what you need to fix.

Let us help you create engaging communications that reach a wide and varied audience. Email hello@watchthisspace.uk

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