Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) In Fundraising: How to Address Implicit Bias

Today we welcome Marlena Estes, Creative Manager, and member of Stelter’s DEI Resource Group.

Do you see what I see?

It’s a simple sentence, but it’s all about perspective. We see the world through our personal lens, created by our unique experiences.

For example:

  • Where we grew up
  • Our family’s beliefs
  • The people in our friend group
  • Our formative experiences

Our lens is a helpful way to begin a conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion. It can help us understand our biases.

To start, let’s get on the same page. There are two kinds of biases:

  • Explicit bias is expressed directly. You know this bias, and you operate consciously. An example of this is, “Women who are mothers are not serious about their careers.”
  • Implicit bias is expressed indirectly. We are usually unaware of this bias. For example, not promoting women with families because you have empathy for how much they juggle.

Today I’m going to share more on implicit bias (the kind you’re unaware of) and how it shows up in conversations about identity.

Identity and Bias

Much of what follows is credited to a 2021 report published by Citi and Getty Images. Their DEI toolkit looked at millions of image downloads and billions of image searches, plus research on cultural attitudes and stereotypes. This information is also spurred by Feeding America, a national nonprofit that aims to end hunger. They have invested in DEI initiatives, and they recently shared a research paper with me that strives to set a standard for authentic representation.

For each of the identity categories that follows, I’ll share an implicit bias and questions that can dismantle them.

Category 1: Age

Implicit bias: We prefer younger people to older people.

An example of an implicit bias is that we prefer images of young people.

Questions to ask:

  • Are you focusing on what older people can’t do, rather than what they can do?
  • Are you defaulting to certain scenarios for age groups? (For example, showing Baby Boomers at medical exams.)
  • Have you considered that rather than always being cared for, older people might be caring for their children?

For more tips on overcoming stereotyping of older adults, this article from K-State can help.

Category 2: Gender

Implicit bias: Men are career-oriented and women are family-oriented.

A big implicit bias when it comes to gender is placing men in career roles and women in a family setting. (Note: We have work to do to move beyond binary man/women definitions and represent various gender identities and expressions.)

Questions to ask:

  • Are the roles depicted equally attributable to women and men?
  • Are you showing diverse gender expressions and presentations in terms of dress, grooming, etc.?
  • Is your story defaulting to stereotypes, such as describing what the woman is wearing?

Category 3: Race

Implicit bias: People prefer their own race.

Avoid checking a box that shows people of different races; instead use imagery that represents authentically.

Questions to ask:

  • Are we relying on tokenism by making a symbolic effort to depict race/ethnicity?
  • Are we centering focus on people of color or are we relying on group shots for symbolic diversity?
  • Are people of color featured in a variety of roles and professions (such as doctor and patient, estate lawyer and donor)?
  • Have we considered historic nuance to ensure that negative stereotypes aren’t perpetuated?

So, What Do I Do Next?

I think an easy way to bring in all facets of a person’s identity—age, gender expression, race, disability, etc.—is to think of the entire human being. We are not defined by one thing. We should represent people fully and not limit their identities. Our goal should be to paint a fuller picture.

Here are some good examples from recent planned giving marketing packages:

This newsletter from Trust for Public Land featured a story on a white woman, Kay Coates, yet centered the article’s imagery on the impact she had by establishing a new park in Harlem, New York.

Oregon Health and Sciences asked to reflect a myriad of identities in illustrations. This wasn’t limited to race, but also accounted for body diversity, something that is seriously lacking in stock illustrations.

Finally, look at these powerful image choices on this landing page masthead and offer for Juilliard.

Remember Our Goals

We aim to celebrate identity and represent authentically. Identifying our implicit biases is an important place to start. Meaningful conversations and intentional behavior are how we take the next step.

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