An American Editor

March 2, 2020

On the Basics: Enhancing diversity and inclusion in your writing (and workplace)

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 6:04 pm

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner, An American Editor

Being inclusive and diverse may seem as challenging as switching from two spaces between sentences to one, but really isn’t that hard to do — in many ways, both can be done easily, even though they continue to be a matter of discussion (in the case of spaces between sentences, contention!). Since the publishing world is publicizing, if not championing, the use of new pronouns and options for colleagues to self-identify by ones they prefer, our field can also lead the way in making written works — and the people or businesses producing them — reflect a wide range of variety in ethnic, religious, national/international and gender identities.

I’ve been surprised to notice that TV commercials have become far more inclusive and diverse than many of the programs they support. We editorial professionals can follow their lead in presenting or including a variety of faces and voices.

As writers, most (if not all) of us owe it to our readers to include, and accurately represent, people of all backgrounds, or at least enough to make it clear that we understand there is a world of variety that we live in, work in, and write/edit/proofread about.

As editors (and maybe even as proofreaders, although this should be managed before that stage), we owe it to our authors and other clients to say something when an opportunity to be inclusive is missed.

As anyone who hires writers, editors, proofreaders, etc., we owe it to our employees and the people they serve to widen the scope of where we look for new people.

As organizers of events, we owe it to participants to go beyond the usual group of presenters to find new and varied voices and faces to make those events more interesting and representative of an industry, profession and cause. It’s also smart to use new channels to reach participants who bring variety and diversity to the events.

That doesn’t mean every story or event has to include everyone, but that it’s worth making the effort to go beyond a standard, and somewhat limited, range of people to illustrate the topics we work on. It makes sense to create stories and publications that reflect the real world, and the reality is that world is one of variety, difference and diversity.

One of the best ways to be more inclusive and diverse is to look for versions of the professional associations we turn to first for advice, colleagiality, new hires, trends, projects, etc. In the USA, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) might be the lead organization of and for journalists, but there’s also the National Association of Black Journalists and groups for and of journalists who are Pacific Asian, Hispanic, etc. If your company needs to bring in more women, look to the Association of Women in Communications. There are organizations for photographers and artists of color, and probably for other communications professionals as well; if not independent entities, there might be subgroups of standard associations that include people of color, various nationalities, different genders, etc.

This perspective isn’t limited only to organizations in communications to consult when hiring. If you’re a journalist, you need to look beyond the big, standard organizations to find people to interview who represent various voices and culture. Associations are a great source of, well, sources — experts in or members of almost any profession or field you can imagine. You might usually contact the American Medical Association for people in that profession to feature in profiles or include in interviews, but there’s a National Medical Association whose members are black. You might know about the American Bar Association, but there’s also the National Bar Association for and of attorneys of color, and the National Association of Women Lawyers or the Women’s Bar Association, just as starting points. Most national trade or membership associations have groups or committees for members of various backgrounds as well.

The not-for-profit sector is also a rich source of diverse sources, situations and experiences. No matter what you’re writing about, or what your authors/clients are writing about, there’s a nonprofit for that — and a lot of them are smaller than a Red Cross, AARP, United Way, etc., but doing important, productive work that includes and/or affects people of varied ethnic, religious, economic and other backgrounds. Some of the larger nonprofits partner with smaller organizations that can add diversity to an article or other project.

The Internet is full of sources of images, many copyright-free, that can be added to various projects when you want to include people of color, different genders, people with disabilities, nontraditional family units, etc.

An easy first step from the grammar perspective is to stop using he, him and his as the default pronoun, and even to avoid the somewhat-clunky s/he, her/him and hers/his or switching back and forth within a piece of writing. The easiest way is to use plural pronouns wherever possible, especially when you don’t know or need to identify the gender or preferred pronoun of someone being written about. To make this even easier, they/their as a singular has been adopted by the major style guides, but I’ve found that plurals usually keep the flow going more smoothly and don’t make readers stop to wonder about meaning.

In the aftermath of recent reactions to the novel American Dirt, where the author has been pilloried for writing about experiences of people from a culture she doesn’t belong to, this might seem risky. I’m not talking about presenting oneself as something one isn’t (although I don’t think that’s really what that author did, and canceling her readings seemed cowardly on the part of bookstores and other venues, even given the insane threats she and they received). I’m talking about realistically presenting the world as it is: full of variety in backgrounds, perspectives, opinions, experiences and more.

Whether you’re writing, editing, proofreading, illustrating, publishing, hiring or more, take time to look beyond the easy sources to find people who represent a wider world of reality. The results — more interest, more readers, more sales, more respect — will be worth the effort.

Have you encountered a lack of diversity in the editorial work you do? Have you succeeded in increasing diversity and inclusion in your projects?

Ruth E. “I can write about anything”® Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com). She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: