A number of years ago I was working for a technology company serving the Hospitality industry. I was preparing a presentation and planned to include images of women travelers and hotel guests - something that mirrored my direct experience as I was traveling about fifty percent of the time and spent at least 10 nights a month in hotel rooms. Much to my dismay, the images I found were not of real world business women. Just imagine doing a search on "business woman + hotel" and finding only pictures of women lounging in sexy nighties on the bed, or in a Spa robe, or what appeared to be a young girl "playing" business woman. In essence, I was not able to even represent my own reality, let alone portray the future I wanted to see with more professional business women.
In 2014 Getty Images, in collaboration with Lean In, launched the Lean In Collection. Finally, I could find stock images of professional women than represented my reality. Let me clarify that reality; my primary care physician is a woman, my dentist is a woman, my accountant is a woman, my ophthalmologist is a woman... but wait! Those women I just mentioned are also of varying ethnicities. I recognize that this is still a unique situation - but it's one that I'm blessed to live with, and one that I hope will be the future our children come to know as "normal."
I'm a firm believer that we each have the power to take steps - within our possibilities - that can and will add up to big changes. One of my favorite quotes is from Japanese poet Ryunosuke Satoro: "Individually we are one drop. Together we are an ocean." Promoting women in leadership is important to me, because I believe that when more women are making decisions for the collective population, women in all roles will be better represented for equality and justice. Frequently, however, we are not sure what those small steps are, how we can take them, and it's easy to get overwhelmed thinking of the big actions and decisions that are beyond our means. How can we "be" the diversity we seek?
[Read More: 5 Ways Companies are Closing the Gender Gap]
Language and imagery are something we all use every day, in varying degrees, and they matter immensely. If you are in a role where you can influence these for a company or organization, large or small, your little step just got bigger. This year I began working on a company video and needed to add some b-roll imagery - in essence, stock footage of situations that represent the story you are trying to tell. I wanted to depict a physician with a patient giving a treatment or prescription. There were no boundaries around the sex or ethnicity of that image... did the patient need to be a child or adult? Did the parent of the child need to be the mother or the father? Did the physician need to be of any particular race or sex? I essentially found myself with a palette upon which I could be the diversity I seek.
This time, I found every combination of imagery I was looking for; proof not only that there is now greater demand for diversity in imagery, but also that our reality is getting one tiny step closer to that future we seek, as recently reported in a Fast Company article supporting the importance of using imagery to break down stereotypes.
I know it will take more than marketing to achieve the diversity we seek, yet I am encouraged by the resources available to us, the positive examples and the real-life, achievable actions we are offered with networks like Ellevate, LeanIn, The She Project, The Broad Report, Catalyst and more. It's easy to read about the real game-changers and think we are too small to influence change; find your small action, your little "drop", and I'm confident you too can be the diversity you seek!
[Related: Creating an Employee Executive Board Will Close the Gender Gap in Business]
Leilani Latimer is the Senior Director of Marketing at Zephyr Health. She is a marketing leader with proven experience taking nascent business ideas and products from concept to scale, with success in global go-to-market strategies, product marketing and planning, cross-functional team leadership, customer engagement, communications and employee engagement.
Ellevate Network is a global women's network: the essential resource for professional women who create, inspire and lead. Together, we #InvestInWomen.