Is your website racist?

Black and white handshake

Have you checked your website lately to see if you are being unconsciously racist? The chances are that your website could include images that are somewhat singular in their approach. How culturally diverse is your website? The chances are the wording you use, and the way you refer to people is embedded in a single position. 

This is all before we stop consider the cultural make-up of your organisation as a whole.

Take Donald Trump (I wish someone would). Yesterday he claimed that no-one since Abraham Lincoln had done as much for black people as he has done. Trump has just one black person in his cabinet. There are no Hispanics and just one person of Asian descent. Oh, and there are only three women. The rest are all white males. So much for doing more for black people. 

However, as much as we might seethe at Trump’s blatant lies he is not that far removed from reality, Many businesses, for instance, believe they are not racially biased, yet clearly they are. For example, they do not seek anonymised CVs in job applications. So, when a job application lands on the desk of a British executive with an unconscious prejudice who do you think they will call for an interview – Graham or Adewale?

The research on this is clear – people who get called for interview are subconsciously selected by their name. Indeed, you find that names “cluster” in professions. There are more Jasons, Darrens and Ryans in firefighting than most other jobs. Similarly, you will find lots of veterinary surgeons called Sara or Wayne. In the world of geology, you’ll be inundated with Henrys and Hughs. 

Why does this happen? Because of the psychology of framing. If you are a fire chief and you work with a “Jason” you already have a mental framework that the name “Jason” is appropriate for a firefighter. Hence, when you see a job application from another “Jason” your brain goes “that’s a firefighter”, and subconsciously you have pre-selected that applicant for an interview before you have even read the CV. The only way out of this is to have CVs without names. The same principle applies too for gender, ethnicity, location and age. Even which school or university that the individual comes from can tip your subconscious brain in a specific direction. 

Some businesses, of course, try to remove as much personally identifying material as they can from job applications so that any subconscious bias is eliminated. But do these businesses do the same for their web content department, for example?

There you are as a web content producer putting together a page about how your company is taking steps to ensure it is protecting its customers with high levels of cybersecurity. You need an image, and so off you go to a stock library for what looks like someone involved in website security. You already have a picture in mind the moment I said that. Either you have an image of someone you know in cybersecurity, or you have a vision based on popular thinking about cybersecurity experts. So you might be picturing a nerdy-looking chap in his 30s with curly hair and a beard. Or you might have in mind a white male in a grey suit and red tie. Type “cybersecurity expert” into several stock libraries an those are the kinds of things you see. But two leading cybersecurity experts in the world are a black man in his late 40s and a white woman in her 50s. So, when you select an image from a stock library for cybersecurity expert, could your subconscious thinking be leading you towards adding pictures to your website which perpetuate a myth rather than reality?

Just take a look around a random selection of websites, and you will find plenty of white men around. Yet white skin is only 11% of the world’s population. And males are only half the human race, by the way. All around the Internet, there are plenty of white males. Perhaps that has subconsciously triggered Trump in his cabinet selection?  

You get my argument, though, I am sure. The images and wording you select for your website are bound up in unconscious decisions, framed by the world in which you live.

It’s time we all started making more conscious decisions about what we put on our websites so that they are more representative, as well as being racially, gender and age balanced. 

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