- What is diversity and inclusion, and why should it be a priority for your heritage organisation?
- Consider your visuals – are you using diverse imagery and footage?
- Are you using inclusive language?
- Is your online content accessible?
- Opportunities to celebrate diversity and inclusion and cross-sector collaboration
From its exploration of our collective pasts to its protection of our public spaces, the UK’s vibrant heritage sector ultimately exists to celebrate our stories as a nation. It is therefore vital that it reflects the diverse makeup of our society and serves all communities.
A recent Landscapes Review report* cites that “barely one percent of visitors to UK national parks are of BAME backgrounds” and claims “this is wrong for organisations which are funded by the nation to serve everyone”, highlighting an urgent need for organisations such as national parks to invest in outreach strategies to increase the ethnic diversity of visitors.
Getting diversity and inclusion right has become one of the most pressing issues of our times, but what is the difference between the two terms? Despite often being conflated, diversity can be understood as the ‘what’ and inclusion as the ‘how’.
Diversity focuses on the makeup of your people such as your workforce, in-person visitors and online audiences, including their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, disability, and other demographic characteristics. Inclusion focuses on the steps you take to embrace diversity, and ensure that all people feel welcome in your spaces.
The benefits of embedding diversity and inclusion in your organisational objectives are well-documented. But it’s also important to ensure that your online content also reflects these commitments. In addition to it being the right thing to do, making sure your digital content reflects the diversity of the relevant population, and that all people feel included, can only serve to broaden your audience, and increase your visitor numbers, both on and offline.
This article will take you through how to ensure that you are incorporating diversity and inclusion considerations in your online content through your visuals, language, accessibility, and collaboration opportunities.
People are naturally drawn to places where they feel included and that they feel ‘are for them’, so ask yourself if the audiences you are trying to attract can see themselves reflected in your images and which communities are going unrepresented. Your visual choices can play a major role here.
Many platforms now offer visual assets that include a more diverse range of communities for you to use in your online content. Here are some suggestions of where to go when looking to improve your visual diversity:
- nappy.co: offers free stock images of underrepresented people
- blackillustrations.com: paid for illustrations of Black people for your digital projects
- humaaans: diverse illustrations for commercial and personal use
- Coverr: their Celebrating Diversity collection offers some free diverse stock footage
- Storyblocks: their Re:Stock collection offers more representative stock footage
By way of an example, the Bradford Industrial Museum focuses on historical education, with exhibitions including textile machinery, steam power, and printing machinery, but their strong visual diversity ensures they are reflecting their commitment to be inclusive of Bradford’s diverse communities.
We all know the power of language and that the words we choose can have a big impact on readers. It’s important to use accurate and appropriate language around particular communities.
There are many organisations, led by and supporting marginalised groups, which have created language and style guides to support exactly this. These are free to access, continually updated and often the organisations are open to fielding queries, so please reach out if you are unsure about something!
Considering whether your online content is accessible is an important component of diversity and inclusion. You can follow best practice in this area by adhering to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to ensure your web content is accessible to disabled people.
When your audience can access your online content easily, they are more likely to feel encouraged to access your other offerings, and to visit your physical and virtual spaces. By using tools and techniques such as alt text in the images you use, concise wording or presenting text in an accessible way, you can make connecting with your online content as easy as possible regardless of people’s accessibility requirements.
For further guidance for how heritage organisations can ensure your online content is accessible, visit the following resources on our Digital Heritage Hub:
- How to improve your website to make it more user friendly, accessible, and fit for purpose
- How do I make my social media content accessible?
- What do I need to know about creating an accessible website?
One organisation which has incorporated accessibility considerations well is VocalEyes, which supports blind and visually impaired people to experience art and heritage. Their website’s extensive accessibility settings allow visitors to amend their preferences in multiple ways to suit their needs, such as adjusting colours, font sizes and spacing.
There is important work being done around diversity and inclusion in the heritage sector, with many organisations run by those with lived experience catering to communities who have previously felt left out of this space. Often the best thing to do is amplify the voices of others, rather than trying to speak on their behalf.
Signposting to other organisations’ events and promoting cross-sector collaboration are great ways for you to work with and support others who are also committed to celebrating diversity. One way to do this is through tentpole days or events like Black History Month, South Asian History Month or Disability Awareness Day. Not only will you be supporting a great cause, but this also allows you to demonstrate to your audiences how your organisation is supporting different equality strands and communities through creating and sharing unique content online.
For example, the People’s History Museum marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, the start of the process to decriminalise homosexuality in England and Wales, with the award-winning Never Going Underground exhibition. Their exhibition was very popular online, with many sharing their visiting experience using the hashtag #NeverGoingUnderground. This is alongside the museum resharing their own images to show support for Manchester’s LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month.
Grappling with the relationship the heritage sector has with different equality strands can mean having difficult conversations, but these are worth leaning into to demonstrate a real commitment to working towards a more inclusive future. According to Anna Eavis, Curatorial Director at English Heritage “we know that some aspects of England’s story have been told more fully than others. Shining a light on the histories of marginalised communities enables us to give a fuller account of – and better understand – our shared past.”
Whilst integrating diversity and inclusion into your online presence can feel challenging at first, making use of the numerous free tools and support available can help you on your journey, enabling you to show your commitment to celebrating and valuing difference, and being a welcoming and inviting organisation for all communities.
*Julian Glover (2019) Landscapes Review
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Please attribute as: "How can I support diversity and inclusion through my online content? A step-by-step guide to inclusivity (2022) by Fahmida Miah supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0