Our creative industry is still stuck in a universal, inauthentic, exclusive rut. People of color, LGBTQIA+, plus-size people, disabled people, and others deserve an inclusive client experience and it’s time to make a change. The best place to make that change? Your website. It’s the digital home of your service-based business, your number-one sales tool, and the last stop a customer makes before hiring you. To make your website more inclusive, you’ll need to follow these three, crucial steps:
Step 1: Kick tokenism to the curb
Making your website more inclusive begins with an authentic intent. You should be doing this work because you genuinely love people and want to create an inclusive client experience so everyone of all stripes feels seen and heard in the world. There is no room for tokenism (the practice of only making a symbolic effort toward equality) in the services industry.
Step 2: Update your words and images
I define inclusive language as written, spoken, and visual communication that acknowledges and respects human diversity. That means that in order to make your website more inclusive, you’ll need to address both words and images.
The words and images you should change will likely involve one or several of these categories:
- Sexual orientation
- Race and ethnicity
- Parental status
- Socioeconomic status
- Military status
There are many identities beyond this list, but these are the most applicable universal (for example, geography is another category but I couldn’t advise you on what to say without knowing the specific market you serve).
By changing the words and images you use, I recommend going category by category, rather than website page by website page, to make these changes. Every business owner should be able to apply many of these changes on their own website even if they don’t fall into that industry.
Here are some examples from the perspective of a wedding photographer:
- Replace terms like lady, babe, dude, bride, and groom with a person, friend, couple, fiancé, or partner.
- Ask yourself, “What gender roles or stereotypes am I reinforcing?” as you read your copy.
- Update your images to portray a variety of genders.
- Replace phrases like bride and groom or Mr. and Mrs. with a couple, spouses, or partners—especially in places where a person might input their name, like on your HoneyBook intake form.
- Ask yourself, “What past experience do I have serving LGBTQIA+ people and how can I tell those stories?” when you evaluate your website copy.
- Update your images so they portray more than just straight relationships.
Race & ethnicity
- Replace terms like African American, Spanish, Mexican, or Asian American with Black, Chicano/a, Latinx, Asian, or people of color. Better yet, ask clients how they refer to themselves, and adopt that language when describing a service you offered them.
- Ask yourself, “What ethnicities are common in my area and how can I include their unique traditions in my marketing?” as you re-read your website copy.
- Update your images to show a variety of ethnicities and don’t forget to include interracial couples.
- Replace church with a place of worship. Replace a priest or preacher with a religious leader, officiant, or celebrant. Replace religious ceremony with just ceremony or ritual.
- Ask yourself, “How can my writing include Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and other non-Christian traditions? How can I include those who don’t identify with any religion?”
- Update your images to include iconic traditions of different religions, such as people wearing the Jewish yarmulke or the application of henna during Hindu weddings.
- Replace handicapped and disability-first language like the deaf woman with disabled and person-first language like the woman who is deaf.
- Ask yourself, “What experience do I have serving the disabled community and how can I portray that on my website?” as you review your copy.
- Update your images to include those with disabilities.
- Replace terms like fat with plus-size, full-figured, curvy, husky, or big and tall.
- Consider also adding phrases like size-inclusive and body-positive.
- Ask yourself, “How can I make people with larger bodies, smaller bodies, taller bodies, shorter bodies, etc. feel accommodated in my business?” as you re-read your website copy.
- Update your images to show people beyond a size 2.
- Ask yourself, “Am I making assumptions about how old my clients are?” as you rework your website copy.
- Update your images to include more than just 20-year-olds.
- Replace references to mom and dad with parents, guardians, or family.
- Ask yourself, “How do I make my clients’ children involved in my work?” as you work through the copy.
- Update your images to include families.
- Replace poor, frugal, low-budget, or backyard with practical, budget-conscious, economical, or thrifty.
- Ask yourself, “Which of my offers has the most value?”
- “How can I direct budget-conscious customers toward my services?” as you read your website copy.
- Replace terms like ARMY brat with a military family, active duty military, or members of the armed forces.
- Ask yourself, “What experience do I have serving military personnel and how can I tell these stories on my website?” as you read your copy.
- Update your images to include photos of service members.
Step 3: Accept your responsibility to be an agent of change
The number one quality you need to be an advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion is bravery. Which, as an entrepreneur, I know you have because it takes a heck of a lot of guts to go out on your own and start a business.
Privilege is power and each of us has some privilege. It’s your responsibility to use your power for good and that means making an effort to be an agent of change and transform the creative industry into a kinder, more welcoming, more inclusive place. Be the change.