'Engage with diverse communities for feedback'

Why Getty Images and Citi are embracing the power of stereotype smashing

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


In a marketing ecosystem increasingly seeking a more actionable approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion than a panel discussion diversity doing is the order of the day.

For Getty Images and Citi this commitment to action was successfully delivered through a first of its kind custom toolkit and training program. A project which was rolled out globally to support Citi marketers and communicators, as well as opened-up to marketers across the globe.

The toolkit, which you can access here, was also made available to marketers and communicators worldwide, across different brands and industries. The project underlines the simple truth that for business and consumer brands alike every marketing moment is an opportunity for inclusive communications.

Peter Bates, Head of Brand & Marketing EMEA at Citi, believes the toolkits are critical to creating change. He explains: “It’s the reason we wanted to provide these toolkits as open source – available to all. We have found the toolkits to be especially useful as a reference within the creative process.”

By providing market-specific insight Citi can evaluate its work against the country specific data and insight that capture cultural and regional nuances, as well as actionable

Insights to create authentic and multi-faceted depictions of people in marketing and communications. As Bates explains this helps the brand ‘check ourselves and our assumptions’. He explains: “It’s been quite eye opening, especially when you see how naturally you can fall into cliché within imagery. We have found it invaluable, and we hope others do too.”

Getty aims for the toolkit to deliver a level of comfort to brands in that marketers can see where they can make a difference by looking at what they are doing across identity groups and where they need to put effort into evolving and moving forward.

Lockdown & the pandemic created the desire to see people as their authentic selves, this helped with the DE&I conversations, as we were aware of our differences while all living the same experience.

Dr Rebecca Swift, Vice President and Head of Global Creative Insights at Getty Images

Stereotype smashers

Putting in that effort is vital in a marketing ecosystem in which stereotypes continue to flourish. Stereotypes matter because they stop people from achieving their full potential and cause real world harm. As one of the world’s foremost experts in visual imagery Dr Rebecca Swift, Vice President and Head of Global Creative Insights at Getty Images, believes that while the past decade has ushered in significant change, there remains a long way to go.

Looking back to the advent of the #MeToo movement in 2017, she believes that this provided a lightning rod for change amongst brands. She explains: “#MeToo caused brands to look at how women are depicted, and conversations really kicked off around how to represent women in all their diversity.”

She continues: “Women in leadership positions, especially in business grew in 2018 and we saw a shift in search behaviour to embrace more diversity in terms of roles that women were seen in. This continued apace in 2019 when we launched the #ShowUs collection with Dove and GirlGaze.” A commitment which has continued to grow.

Swift believes that the pandemic created an environment where diversity flourished. She explains:  “Lockdown & the pandemic created the desire to see people as their authentic selves, this helped with the DE&I conversations, as we were aware of our differences while all living the same experience.”

Then in  2020, the George Floyd protests and #BlackLivesMatter created a need for businesses to address racism head on. “This was seen initially as the Black square on Instagram but led more encouragingly to brands analysing their visual representations of Black people. The focus on race and ethnicity within campaigns continues to the present day,” she adds.

While Disability, which was a big focus point in the 2016 Olympics and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (finally held in 2021) saw a focus on mental health, Swift believes there is still much work to be done, as she explains: “There has been a small increase in mainstream campaigns focusing people with disabilities but the percentage of representation is still below 1% of all visuals.”

We have moved from DE&I being represented as a generic concept, to being embedded in campaigns; showing blended families, romance for the older generations and disability in the workplace.

Dr Rebecca Swift, Vice President and Head of Global Creative Insights at Getty Images

Brands standing their ground

While Outvertising issued a powerful statement to brands to ‘stand their ground’ in pride month, questions remain as to whether marketers are really embracing progressive and inclusive portrayal? Swift explains: “Representation of the LGBTQ+ community has made some progress but the continued debate in the media and the action of certain brands in the US is having an impact on brands use of people from the transgender community.”

There also remains a huge opportunity for brands to embrace the power of more honest and inclusive representations of age. “Ageing is still a work in progress,” explains Swift, who believes that while there is the ‘odd highlight’ such as Apo Whang-Od who appeared on the cover of Vogue Philippines at the age of 106, this shift is yet to have a widespread influence on campaigns yet.

While depictions of ageing have been slow to shift, Swift believes that the direction of travel for marketing as a whole remains positive. She explains: “We have moved from DE&I being represented as a generic concept, to being embedded in campaigns; showing blended families, romance for the older generations and disability in the workplace.”

The fear of getting it wrong

When it comes to identifying the barriers to change amongst marketers Swift is clear of the fear afoot of ‘getting it wrong and doing more harm than good.’ At a recent CMO breakfast Swift reports that there is still a job to be done in ensuring that marketing leaders are confident to run the work. She shares that some attendees in more risk-averse organisations reported challenges in getting agreement from the business to run work that sought to authentically represent audiences. She explains: “There can be a fear of ‘getting it wrong’ or of ‘sticking your head above the parapet’ and attracting criticism, particularly on social media.”

Then there is the challenge of employees feeling empowered to champion DE&I both in their campaigns and within their organisations. “Many attendees felt they were individually championing DE&I within their organisations, but that there was a lack of impetus within the business as a whole. It fell on them to keep advocating for change,” explains Swift. A challenge which chimes with the growing body of research pointing to diversity burnout; whereby diverse talent are disproportionately responsible for ‘fixing’ diversity issues which also disproportionately impact them.

The most important bits of advice would be to make sure you are engaging with diverse communities for feedback and insights.

Peter Bates, Head of Brand & Marketing, EMEA at Citi

Embracing representative visuals

Peter Bates, Head of Brand and Marketing EMEA at Citi, believes that brands must move beyond stereotyping to drive inclusive marketing. Sharing his views on how brands can think more inclusively, he urges marketers to Disrupt stereotypes and tokenism, ensure diverse representation in creative teams and decision-making processes, and regularly evaluate and evolve campaigns based on feedback and changing societal norms.”

He continues: “The most important bits of advice would be to make sure you are engaging with diverse communities for feedback and insights. This worked for us within our paralympic sports sponsorship, where Team Citi athletes were involved in all stages of campaign development and helped to guide us, so the work resonated with the actual people and movement we are trying to champion.”

 Swift urges brands who want to ensure their visuals are representative to consider doing things differently and adopting a toolkit. She explains: “A toolkit, such as the one that we developed with Citi, is a great place to start. It provides businesses with the right questions to ask in order to instil and build confidence in looking at how individual identities intersect. There is often too much generalisation, you need to look at how you want to be perceived as a business, who you want to be inclusive of and which communities you want to elevate in your communications.”

She believes that a focus on inclusive visuals and communications can contribute to an internal culture in which employees feel empowered to commit to DE&I goals and speak their minds.  “A brand’s willingness to embrace the use of diverse and inclusive visuals in internal as well as external communications can really help. In our experience at Getty Images, the drive to create and share these types of visuals has made a huge difference in energising our internal audience,” she adds.

Placing DE&I at the heart of your business

For Citi’s Bates comprehensive company policies are key to making meaningful progress on inclusion. He explains: “Citi recognizes the importance of creating an environment where employees feel comfortable to contribute to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts. Brands need to establish clear DE&I policies and guidelines, provide regular training and education on unconscious bias and inclusivity, encourage open and respectful communication channels, promote diverse leadership and representation at all levels, recognize and celebrate inclusive behaviours, and create employee resource groups or similar initiatives to foster a sense of belonging and empowerment.”

Such a commitment has been well supported across the business, as Bates explains:  “Citi has taken significant steps to cultivate diversity and inclusion within its business. The company has implemented comprehensive DE&I programs, including training initiatives on unconscious bias, inclusive hiring efforts , mentorship and sponsorship programs, reverse mentoring and employee resource networks focused on underrepresented groups. Citi also develops supplier diversity programmes and fosters partnerships with diverse organisations to drive positive social impact.”

It is an approach which Swift echoes, explaining that Getty has also placed DE&I at the core of its business, with comprehensive training programmes, monthly all staff sessions, inclusive hiring practices, a mentoring programme, global advisory committee and employee resource groups. She explains: “Our DE&I work is embedded through every department, not least of which is our content creation where we work with prestigious subject matter expert partners to accurately represent historically underrepresented groups.”

Citi’s Bates believes that a genuine commitment to DE&I and evidence-based examples of progress will be increasingly vital within the B2B marketing sector. He explains: “We continue to see the influence that DE&I efforts have within the B2B supply chain. Demonstrating your values as an organisation is increasingly part of the conversation when talking to existing and prospective clients. Much like us, our partners want to see that values match and we can collectively articulate and demonstrate the business benefits of diversity and inclusion in our partnerships.”

Conversations for change

There is no question that there continues to be tough conversations and challenges when it comes to building genuinely inclusive businesses and brands. Ensuring representation behind the lens is vital to building authentic inclusive brands. Cultivating a safe culture for employees is increasingly vital.

Citi has experienced significant benefits in engagement from its continued focus on DE&I. “We see increased employee engagement and satisfaction, enhanced collaboration and innovation, improved talent attraction and retention, better understanding of diverse customer needs, strengthened brand reputation and customer loyalty, and a more inclusive and diverse workforce that reflects the communities it serves.”

For Swift the commitment continues to pay dividends. As she explains: “There is more confidence from continually talking and importantly educating ourselves which creates a sense of ownership, belonging and trust.”

As stereotypes continue to place a toxic stranglehold on so many aspects of marketing the opportunity to not just continually educate, but create change is simply too important to ignore. Open-sourced solutions such as Getty Images and Citi’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Imagery Toolkits are a powerful reminder that changing perceptions starts with challenging ourselves to do things differently.

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