The national conversation around diversity and inclusion has pushed companies to pay closer attention to how discrimination may be impacting their organization’s hiring practices. But some bias lurks below the surface. What happens when hiring decisions are distorted by unconscious bias? Here’s what you need to know — and what you can do — about unconscious bias in the workplace. 

Could you be biased without even realizing it?

We often assume that our conscious or rational mind is in the driver’s seat because it’s the part of our mind that talks to us, the voice inside our head as we read the words on this page. But science says our brains make decisions intuitively before we’re aware of it; that the vast majority of our processing takes place outside conscious notice. We all have learned stereotypes, attitudes, modes of thinking that are automatic, unintentional, and inbuilt, impacting our decision-making, and leading to flawed assessments — including hiring decisions. In other words, none of us is immune to unconscious bias.

In 2002, Daniel Kahneman changed the way we think about thinking, earning him a Nobel Prize. He put forth a simple cognitive split to explain much of human behavior: fast versus slow thinking. While an artificial construct, this dichotomy draws upon decades of research. Fast thinking is unconscious, instinctive, automatic, and emotional — resulting in snap judgments and, sometimes, bias. Slow thinking is what we consider real “thought;” it’s conscious, logical, deliberate, and (mostly) rational. We use both fast and slow thinking to process information and make decisions but tend to avoid slow thinking when possible because it is more work for our brain and consumes a great deal of energy. Most of the time, our fast and intuitive mind is in control, taking efficient charge of the thousands of decisions we make every day. Even the “simple” act of walking is best done without interference from consciousness — ask someone a multiplication problem mid-stride, and they are likely to stop for a second before answering. Our brains can consciously process 50 bits of information per second but can process a whopping 11 million bits unconsciously. Thought to be an evolutionary adaptation for humans to process and integrate multiple sources of information instantaneously, these cognitive shortcuts are, in essence, timesaving mechanisms for the human brain. But with shortcuts come shortcomings: when our fast-thinking, automatic mind makes decisions that should be the province of our slow-thinking, analytical mind, mistakes creep in.

If you’re making hiring decisions based on “gut feeling,” you’re likely hiring based on unconscious bias. Yikes.

Unconscious biases, though happening outside our awareness, can impact recruiting, hiring, diversity, and productivity. The vast majority of recruiters and hiring managers would not intentionally base their final hiring decision on an aspect like this, but that’s the problem with unconscious bias — you don’t realize that it is affecting your decision making. The best way to stop unconscious bias is through awareness and direct action in your recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and talent retention processes; this will help create a more genuinely diverse and inclusive workplace.

Here are 13 examples of unconscious bias that commonly impact both candidates and employers in the workplace — along with tips on how to avoid them.

1. NAME BIAS

Definition: Name bias refers to the tendency to judge and prefer people with certain types of names — often of Anglo origin.

Name bias in the workplace: What’s in a name? Apparently, a lot. The numbers bear out that this is of the most pervasive forms of unconscious bias in the hiring process. One research study found that white (Anglo-Saxon) names receive 50% more callbacks for interviews than do candidates with African-American names. Another study found that Asian last names are 28% less likely to receive a callback for an interview than those with Anglo last names.

Avoiding name bias: There’s a simple fix: omit candidate name and personal information like email, phone number, and address from application materials. Assign candidates a number, or have an unbiased third-party team member redact this information for the hiring team before a candidate interview, making skills and experience the main things being looked at, without the influence of irrelevant personal information.

2. HALO EFFECT

Definition: The halo effect, sometimes known as the “halo error,” is when one positive trait about a person affects how we judge them in other, unrelated areas.

Halo effect in the workplace: While looking at resumes, you see that a candidate graduated from an elite school and infer that they must be an excellent fit for your company. Other candidates may match your ideal candidate profile better, but they graduated from state schools. Without realizing it, you may find yourself favoring the elite school candidate, ignoring negative details that might emerge throughout the hiring process.

Avoiding the halo effect: To prevent the halo effect when hiring, make sure you do not see correlations where there are none. When reviewing candidates, hew closely to the details and attributes listed in your job profile so that you are less likely to be swayed by other.

3. HORNS EFFECT

Definition: The horns effect is essentially the opposite of the halo effect. It is when a negative trait about a person affects how we judge them in other, unrelated areas. Perception is unduly influenced by this negative trait — casting a mantle of “horns” instead of the vaunted “halo.”

Horns effect in the workplace: The horns effect can lead a hiring team to nix candidates based on a singular trait that is averse to the team’s preferences — despite its irrelevance to the role. It could be as inconsequential as the candidate displaying a particular quirk or mannerism during an interview or having worked in the past with a company you don’t like. Perception of the candidate can be altered entirely, even though these factors are irrelevant to the role.

Avoiding the horns effect: Have a negative feeling about a candidate? Try taking the time to figure out why. Where is that “gut feeling” coming from, what is prompting this reaction? By applying the slow thinking part of your mind, you may discover that the issue is trivial or insignificant and would not impact their ability to succeed in the role. Consult with the rest of the hiring team to get other perspectives on the candidate; checks and balances go a long way to extinguishing unconscious bias.

4. ANCHORING BIAS

Definition: Anchoring occurs when individuals use the first piece of information they learn about something to make subsequent judgments. Once this anchor is set, there is a bias toward interpreting other data around the anchor. In one study, students were given anchors that were clearly wrong—they were asked if Mahatma Gandhi was older or younger than age 9, or older or younger than 140. The two groups guessed in significantly different manners depending on which anchor they initially received, with the “9 group” choosing an average of 50 versus the “140 group” proffering an average age of 67.

Anchoring bias in the workplace: Common anchors that can impact hiring decisions include the college a candidate attended, where they live, the car they drive, or if the two of you grew up in the same town.

Avoiding anchoring bias: Analyze performance and retention data to uncover where there are strong correlations between hiring and future performance. Organize your hiring process to reflect this data and focus on attributes that are meaningful indicators of success for the role, like a strong aptitude for problem-solving.

5. GENDER BIAS

Definition: One of the most pervasive biases, gender bias is the tendency to prefer one gender over another. The gender pay gap and the variance in hiring rates are two of the most common (and glaring) examples of gender bias.

Gender bias in the workplace: It is no surprise that men are given preferential treatment over women in the workplace. But it may shock you to learn that both male and female managers were twice as likely to hire a man over a woman, according to a recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. When presented with equally skilled candidates, men were 1.5 times more likely to be hired — and when a lesser candidate was employed in lieu of a more qualified one, the lesser candidate was a man over 66% of the time.

Avoiding gender bias: A way to sidestep gender bias is to conduct blind screenings of applications that exclude aspects of a candidate that might reveal their gender — name, interests, volunteer organizations. Setting explicit diversity hiring goals can help ensure that your organization holds itself accountable to equitable hiring practices. Make skill and merit the yardstick rather than traits that can cloud judgment.

6. AFFINITY BIAS

Definition: We have all encountered this one before, both in and out of the workplace. Affinity bias, also known as similarity bias, is the tendency for people to connect with others who share similar backgrounds, interests, and experiences.

Affinity bias in the workplace: It’s easy to fall prey to affinity bias when evaluating “culture fit.” When hiring teams engage a candidate they like and feel will get along with the team, it’s often a bridge built of shared interests, experiences, and backgrounds. While similarities should not disqualify a candidate, they also should not be the deciding factor. At first glance, affinity bias may not seem like such an egregious issue, but at amplified levels, it can have serious implications for diversity in the workplace.

Avoiding affinity bias: Look to your company’s core values as the true north star when evaluating a candidate for culture fit. Make sure not to allow “culture fit” to become code for affinity bias. Focus less on shared experiences and more unique skills that will be a “culture add.”

7. CONFIRMATION BIAS

Definition: Confirmation bias is often dubbed the “mother of all misconceptions” because of its prevalence in our lives, and refers to the tendency to look for information that confirms our own pre-existing beliefs, prejudices, or desires. This selective observation may mean you overlook or reject information that does not fit your viewpoint, creating flawed patterns in our thinking that can lead to bias in hiring. It is one of the most studied unconscious biases.

Confirmation bias in the workplace: Confirmation bias can rear its head when a hiring manager looks for information to validate their belief of something, rather than looking at the data for its own merit. The hiring process can devolve into a way to confirm these beliefs as opposed to getting to know the candidate.

Avoiding confirmation bias: Create a list of standardized questions to gauge specific skills and traits of a candidate to help reduce confirmation bias. By having the hiring team evaluate candidates based on predetermined data points that relate directly to the role, candidates are on equal footing. Every interview will evolve into a unique conversation based on a person’s experience, but having a fixed set of questions will help prevent your team from asking too many off-the-cuff questions that could lead to confirmation bias.

8. ATTRIBUTION BIAS

Definition: Attribution bias is all about how we assess our own behavior: when we do something well, we credit our success to our skills and effort. But when we make mistakes, we blame it on externalities. Guess what happens when we assess the behavior of other people? We do the opposite: when we attribute their successes to “luck” — and see their errors as “red flags” or signs of weakness.

Attribution bias in the workplace: Attribution bias can skew your view of a candidate’s performance by minimizing accomplishments while amplifying faults or shortcomings — and may cause you to disregard a talented candidate. Humans snap to quick judgments and falsely assume things about people without knowing the full story. When hiring, attribution bias may cause hiring managers to find someone unfit for a role because of something unusual on their resume — like a gap of two years.

Avoiding Attribution bias: There is an age-old adage about the dangers of assuming, and it holds here. Before assuming a candidate is not fit for a role, ask what happened. That two-year resume gap could be when the candidate was sick with cancer. Some simple clarifying questions go a long way to dispelling assumptions. Give people a chance to share their full stories before writing them off.

9. CONTRAST BIAS

Definition: Also known as the contrast effect, this bias occurs when you rank things. You may believe that a candidate is better or worse based on how we feel about another candidate. It can be difficult to remember that one candidate’s fitness for the role has nothing to do with another’s.

Contrast bias in the workplace: When reviewing numerous candidates for a job, it can be devilishly easy to compare one candidate’s CV to the previous one in the application pile instead of comparing it across the whole stack of resumes. An outstandingly good interview with one candidate may make the next one seem awful by contrast.

Avoiding contrast bias:  Create an applicant review and interview process using standardized, predetermined metrics to prevent reliance on feelings caused by contrast bias. By doing so, your team can compare resumes and interview answers as apples-to-apples instead of apples-to-oranges, allowing for consistent evaluation of all candidates. Applying these same tactics for performance reviews and bonus rewards for employees is an excellent overall practice, as the contrast effect extends beyond the hiring process.

10. CONFORMITY BIAS

Definition: Conformity bias is the tendency to behave like others in a group, even if it contradicts your judgment or beliefs. You likely recognize this cognitive bias by its more pernicious form: peer pressure. This bias can constrict creativity, constructive dissenting opinions, and keep people from productively challenging one another.

Conformity bias in the workplace: When reviewing a candidate’s application materials, you want to ensure that individual opinions about a candidate don’t fall prey to groupthink — you could miss out on hiring a stellar candidate for it.

Avoiding conformity bias: Before meeting as a team to discuss a candidate, have each member write down and submit their feedback and thoughts separate from one another after interacting with the candidate. After doing so, have your team come together to review what everyone wrote to hear more impartial opinions before making a decision.

11. AGEISM BIAS

Definition: Ageism is when one has negative feelings or judgments about another person based on their age.

Ageism bias in the workplace: Particularly at American companies, ageism impacts older people more often than younger. 58% of workers begin to notice ageism as they slide into their 50s — making it more difficult to find a job, move up the ladder, or change careers. Employers tend to value younger talent more and more (economics is a factor, younger workers are cheaper), despite how critical experience and expertise are for any successful organization.

Avoiding ageism bias: Work to debunk myths around ageism in your company. Create policies that prevent age bias by setting a goal of hiring with an eye to age diversity when recruiting new talent.

12. BEAUTY BIAS

Definition: Beauty bias is the tendency to believe that attractive people are more competent, qualified, and successful.

Beauty bias in the workplace: Simply put: it pays to be pretty. According to research, this is a common form of bias in the workplace — playing out in paychecks everywhere. Studies find that attractive people — yes, both women and men — earn higher incomes. Women gain an eight percent wage boost for above-average looks but pay a four percent pay penalty if below-average. The wage boost is just four percent for men, but the penalty for below-average looks is far higher, clocking in at 13 percent!

Avoiding beauty bias: Technology can help mitigate beauty bias. Utilizing phone interviews as the first point of contact, in place of video conference or an in-person interview, can help establish a baseline that is not predicated on looks. Work to structure recruiting and interview processes such that the hiring team can compare applications and interviews equally to reduce the risk of beauty bias.

13. HEIGHT BIAS

Definition: Height bias is our tendency to judge a person who is either significantly shorter or taller than the socially-accepted norm for their gender’s height.

Height bias in the workplace: Sometimes dubbed the “necktie syndrome,” tall candidates are often seen as more experienced, competent, and healthy, which is perhaps why 58% of male CEOs at major companies stand at over six feet. In Western countries, jumping from the 25th to 75th percentile of height — a four to five-inch differential — is associated with a 9 to 15 percent increase in salary. Studies show that an extra inch may be worth almost $800 a year in elevated earning.

Avoiding height bias: By conducting initial interviews via phone or video conference, susceptibility to judging a person based on height is reduced. Awareness goes a long way towards identifying this common social behavior in yourself.


About the author. 
An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist — Karina writes, edits, and produces compelling content across multiple platforms — including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties.

Welcome to the distributed workforce story of 2020. If remote work and freelancing were growing at an unprecedented rate before — it’s stratospheric today.

The numbers paint a compelling picture: according to a study conducted by Freelancing In America, 57 million Americans freelanced in 2019, about 35% of the country’s entire workforce. And with where things are today, the number of freelancers in the USA has undoubtedly grown and is likely to reach to over 90 million by 2028 — which is why crafting a plan for remote performance reviews is such an essential move.

While some of have had education and experience working with and evaluating remote hires, most of us have not had the opportunity to learn the nuances of navigating these distanced professional relationships. But with remote work and freelancing becoming a more significant part of everyday work, it is now more essential than ever to institute the types of policies that have served well in a more traditional work environment, particularly freelancer performance reviews.

Freelancers do not often undergo the same in-depth evaluation process as fulltime employees, and many companies do not have freelancer performance reviews at all. For both the company and the freelancer this is less than ideal. Here’s why: the company doesn’t have the opportunity to improve the work by addressing issues that need attention. The freelancer loses out on receiving overarching feedback that would allow them to grow and improve their quality work — a lose-lose.

With rates of independent contract workers skyrocketing — and with so much work remote for the foreseeable future — creating processes to help grow and improve valuable relationships with freelancers has legs. If you are thinking about folding freelancer performance reviews into your company’s management process for remote consultants, here are several things that will help make it a winning strategy.

Preparation = Success.

As in so many things, laying the groundwork sets the stage for success. Go into a freelancer performance review knowing what you want to say and how you want to say it ahead of time. Make sure to deliver materials beforehand to the freelancer, gather peer review responses, and create an outline for each performance review. Work with managers that have remote freelance staff to design a plan for reviews that works well for you company — everyone involved will get the most out of the process that way.

Schedule regular freelancer performance reviews. Not just an annual one.

Just as full-time employees benefit from regular, constructive feedback from their managers, so do freelancers. Many full-time workers have their work reviewed quarterly, with a more in-depth annual review. Extend the same process to remote freelancers and reap the benefits of improved work and strengthened work relationships. Identifying areas for improvement on an ongoing, regular basis throughout the year allows for more successful, sustained growth for all involved.

At the beginning of your relationship with a consultant, it may make sense to schedule more review time to ensure that things are heading in the right direction. Blaming an independent contractor for work that misses the mark when they have not had the chance to receive constructive feedback from managers or peers is not a sound system. Create a process with check-ins throughout the project lifecycle or over the span of a year so that all parties are on track.

Videocalls have been your ally, but for freelancer performance reviews they’re your BFF.

While a phone call may be useful for daily work, it fails to capture the tone and emotion of an in-person meeting. Physical communication conveys a lot, and video allows you to be clearer and provide physical cues so that remote contractors can feel the importance of your words in multiple ways. Video simulates focused face-to-face meetings. Find a platform that works well for you — and use it (Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, etc.). Unsurprisingly, 87% of freelancers feel more connected when using video conferencing.

Self and peer evaluations are clutch.

Traditional performance reviews often include self and peer evaluations — it’s a smart move to also have them as part of your annual freelancer performance review process. It may be even more critical for freelancers to receive feedback from the people with whom they work. Given the lack of daily face-to-face contact, it can be challenging to gauge how the people they are working with really feel about their work. But by including self and peer reviews, independent contractors have an opportunity to speak openly about where they feel peers can improve — and if there is potential for hurt feelings, peer evaluations can remain anonymous. And getting feedback from freelancers may open your eyes to issues you did not know were there when conducting your review of a contractor’s work. It can be hard to have a feel for the relationship of employees that pass files back and forth online.

Create a unified message.

Focus on the most important message you want to deliver; by doing so, you will have a much better opportunity to create a positive outcome from the meeting. Annual reviews are the right time to bring up the most pressing issues affecting work performance, while smaller things can be addressed in quarterly reviews or a more casual phone conversation. By curating a unified message for the freelancer to “take home,” you will help define the review’s successful outcome.

Some tips: go into every review with a single clear message you want to impart. If there’s more than one, keep it to no more than three distinct points — the more focused your discussion, the more likely the recommended changes will be made.

Make an action plan and follow through.

To make actionable change, you need an action plan. At the end of every freelancer performance review, involve the freelancer in putting together an action plan for moving forward. Having them engaged in the process will feel less like a direct order and more like something that they have a hand in shaping, to help secure their future work with the company.

Before you end the meeting, have a plan in place. The freelancer should know where they need to improve and what steps they will take make that happen. If you want to hold them accountable to this action plan, make sure you are also accountable. Reliability and consistency will help make the review process one with a positive, productive outcome.


About the author.
An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist — Karina writes, edits, and produces compelling content across multiple platforms — including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties.

I’m going to be honest here. I’ve written a few versions of this because it’s hard to know who I’m writing for. We’re all having such similar and yet such varied experiences throughout this pandemic. Throughout these global cries for justice, as we watch the wealth gap widen and the dreams we were promised if we worked hard enough crumble. While we watch innocent Black folks killed by police officers again and again. My intention here is to offer some tools for mental and emotional resilience no matter your circumstances, which can be a struggle financially, mentally, emotionally, physically, or a combination or all of the above. I hope you are getting your basic needs met. I hope you are finding joy.

For those of us who still have a roof over our heads and some sort of income, we may be reciting the same phrase. Something along the lines of, “I’m doing well, honestly, I feel really lucky all things considered.” Maybe we even mean it. But there is something about this “stuckness.” Something about how this feels like everything is happening and yet parts of life feel like they’re on hold, unless we consciously find creative ways to move around those barriers. Maybe that’s the kind of creativity we need right now.

Whatever your current struggle, you are not alone. Maybe you’re physically exhausted. Maybe the emotional toll of risk management is spiking your anxiety. Maybe the most recent tragedy in Kenosha, on top of so many others, is driving you deeper into despair. Maybe you are burning out on activism. Maybe you feel helpless and the stress of it is making everything worse. Maybe you’re out of work and unsupported and facing financial hardship.

Maybe you’ve experienced “the hell zone.” I found myself having periodic dips during the first months of isolation and social distancing. I would go from “everything’s going to be okay,” to crying on the floor in a matter of hours. That has leveled out. Become less extreme. I’ve come back to my grounding practices and been able to sleep a little more. Maybe you’re still swinging on the pendulum. Maybe you’re finding yourself numb. Maybe you’re too tired to care. There is no wrong way to cope.

To be extremely clear on the national trauma we’re experiencing right now, as of early September, more than 6 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19. Nearly 200,000 have died. People are saying goodbye to loved ones through sheets of plastic or not at all, and real leadership has been lacking. People are suffering and dying alone. Hospital workers are burning out and resources keep running low. Simultaneously, protestors are demanding justice and accountability for the crimes of police officers. They, in turn, have militarized, prompted violence by launching tear gas at peacefully protestors, caused several miscarriages, beaten protestors, and shot yet another unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake, in front of his children.

Your grief, your trauma, your despair, your rage, your fury, your exhaustion are normal under the circumstances. It is tragic, but it is true. While many of our systemic issues have existed well before the pandemic, they are clearer and more inescapable than ever under present circumstances.

So how do we cultivate resilience when we feel like we’re falling apart? What do grounding practices look like? How can we build up our reserves to prevent this fallout in the first place?

With no shortage of traumatic events and studies, science can offer us some suggestions for how to come out of this stronger. Methods of processing and adaptation. Below are a couple of the ways you can relieve stress, build your reserves, and find the inner strength to become your most functional and resilient self.

Acknowledge your feelings

It’s vital to recognize the feelings that have come up for us and where they’re coming from. Right now, they’re probably coming from a lot of places. Taking the time to sort out today’s cocktail of grief and stress may help manage them and limit burnout and breakdown.

Is it anxiety about catching COVID? Is it financial stress? Is it the unyielding grief of oppressive systems felt most prominently in Black communities? Is it physical illness? Is it a job layoff? Inconsiderate behavior coming from partners or roommates? Is it an old trauma response resurfacing? If we don’t acknowledge those sticky feelings, it’s easy to get them tangled. When I work with clients, I call this practice “unraveling the emotional threads.”

Understand the source to understand the feeling.

See yourself as the architect of your reality

When studying children of troubled backgrounds, psychologists discovered a common thread among the most resilient, the ones who thrived despite their circumstances at home. These children, more often than not, had an internal locus of control, meaning they saw themselves as the architects of their own reality or the “orchestrators of their fate.”

When we see ourselves as participants in our own stories rather than victims of circumstance, it gives us a sense of control. The pandemic has revealed all the places where we only had an illusion of control, so how can we possibly reconcile this? By focusing on what we can control: our reactions, our habits and our perspectives. Once we acknowledge the source of the stress, we can be more proactive about how we deal with it.

Show a little compassion

We can be so critical with ourselves, but taking a moment to stop the judgmental voice in our heads can be really good for us. Maybe you’re not as productive or creative as you were before COVID. Maybe you feel like you’re falling behind. These are all stories we tell ourselves that don’t reflect the reality of our present moment and will only further harm your mental state.

You can start by noticing the negative talk in your head. Something like “I’m failing right now.” Take a breath and be kind. “I don’t feel like I’m succeeding the way I want to be, but that is okay in this moment. I won’t feel this way forever.” The negative talk is not going to get you out of the dark spiral of doom. But being nice to yourself, even when it feels gross and impossible or like you don’t “deserve it” might create the necessary space to pull you out.

Talk about it

Humans are social creatures. We need community. Isolation has been hard on that. While many people have been able to expand their pods of community, others have not. Do you have people you can check in with? Do you have people who will check on you? Maybe there is online support for the issues you’re working through.

Some friends have been catching up via group video chat calls. I have been on two and hated them, so we all have to find the methods that work for us. Maybe you need more than a friend right now. This could be a great time to explore therapy, especially since many are offering virtual sessions. If you’ve avoided therapy because of the stigma, I promise it’s cool now. We all do it, and it’s great.

Mental Health Resources for BIPOC

APA Resources and Crisis Lines

Write about it

Maybe you’re not quite ready to talk about your feelings. Try writing them instead. A consistent writing practice of expressing negative emotions can have beneficial health effects both mentally and physically. It’s an excellent supplement to talking to someone (like a friend or therapist) and can even serve as an alternative until you are ready to talk.

Create meaning

The ability of a group of people to thrive after a crisis often has strong ties to the meaning they create from that experience. At the end of a crisis, post-traumatic growth rises as people ascribe meaning to their hardship, as Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel writes about in Man’s Search for Meaning. When all is said and done, what have we learned, how have we grown in spite of and because of this hardship?

Flex your muscles

Maybe you can’t make it to the gym, but you can still move! We have tons of body weight exercises you can do at home right here, or simply go for a walk, bike ride, swim, or dance in your bedroom. The boost of oxygen and endorphins can keep that perspective clear and less likely to take you into doom town. Studies show regular physical exercise is associated with emotional resilience for acute stress. While the stress of COVID and everything else is probably more chronic than acute, keeping up with cardio and incorporating some more restorative practices (like foam rolling, stretching, or yin yoga) can certainly help in cycles.

I honestly cannot stress this one enough. Last week, I was combative and sulky and weepy after consuming too much news. After 45 minutes of outdoor yoga, I felt like the dark cloud consuming me had lifted. Our minds are fragile ecosystems that require nourishment.

Take breaks for mindfulness

If you haven’t tried it already, cultivating a yoga practice can be a helpful gateway into exploring mindfulness. A yoga practice is more than the exercises (known as asana), but also includes meditation, breath awareness, as well as following ethical guidelines for living. There are yoga and meditation classes galore for you to try, but the core of what you need is to practice awareness of the present moment. Notice how you’re sitting as you read this. The feelings in your body. Are you tensing up anywhere? Can you breathe a little deeper or more slowly? Can you feel the air against your skin? Your feet on the floor? Your seat in the chair?

A practice like this on its own might not feel like enough. We can only understand resilience in relation to stress. If our well constantly “leaks,” there is no way to stay emotionally satiated. However, cultivating a mindfulness practice can help you identify the “leaks” and manage how you react to them.

Find moments for gratitude

The neuroscience backs up gratitude practices as a way to build resilience. Focusing your thoughts on the good and positive things in your life, helps foster a more uplifted state of mind by exercising your neurological wiring. This is not about “light-washing” your experience. This practice acknowledges the hardship but allows for the space to recognize what small pieces of joy we can claim today. Whether taking a moment in the morning or before bed, or making it a journaling practice, or taking a daily walk to connect with those bits of joy, there’s a reason it’s a core tenant for many religious and spiritual practices.

Find ways to help

As Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés reminds us in her letter “We Were Made For These Times,” nothing heals the heart like standing up and being there for others.

Of course, what’s especially challenging here is our limited ability to help if we’re not on the front lines. Action is what takes that anxious energy and helps us to process it, however, going out into the world now carries a certain amount of risk and may exacerbate that anxiety for some. It could be critically dangerous for others.

Some of us have been able to start venturing out with the proper precautions. From protests to volunteer organizations, there is no shortage of people giving back to their communities, demanding justice, and working towards a better tomorrow.

Maybe it’s not safe for you to contribute in that way. That’s okay! You can still make calls, write letters, send donations, raise awareness, and check in on the people in your life. Building your resilience can start by helping one person in any way you can. Maybe you write letters to the elderly. Or donate to indigenous students. Or make calls for justice. There are ways to help regardless of your ability to leave the house.

Long-term effects + children

The intergenerational effects of traumatic stress are rampant at the cellular level, as has been studied in Holocaust survivors and their children. While many of us are doing okay, many others are not. This is also why cycles of poverty and abuse are so difficult to get out of, contributing to inter-generation and systemic poverty and child abuse that are entrenched in the fabric of our society.

In order to develop resilience, children need to feel supported. According to Harvard Graduate School of Education, children who go on to thrive after traumatic events have at least one stable and supportive relationship with an adult.

What that looks like during these times can be different for everyone, but allowing space for questions, confusion, explanation and understanding can be paramount to keeping a level of trust, comfort and understanding. Experts suggest brief but honest answers to their questions, as well as labeling and validating feelings to help children cope emotionally.

This is a difficult time for everyone is wildly different ways, but we are also being presented with opportunities to change how we interact with the world. Like a seed cracking or a chrysalis bursting open, this liminal time is uncomfortable, but also unavoidable.


About the author.
Alessandra is the mentor, educator, and writer behind Boneseed, a private practice devoted to deep self-inquiry through a range of physical, energetic, and mental modalities. She has over 500 hours of yoga, mentorship, and facilitation training and can be found slinging knowledge on her website, newsletter, and @bone.seed.

The art, music, and creative industries were some of the most hard-hit by COVID-19. Major festivals and fairs like Coachella, South by Southwest, Art Basel, and more had to be postponed or canceled — fashion shows went virtual. Theatres remain dark. We don’t know when (or if) artists will return to the stage or when art openings will open again.

But in the face of all this absence and loss, artists and fans have found community in staggering numbers by tuning into Instagram Live and Zoom, watching intimate performances and shows streamed right into living rooms everywhere. DJ D-Nice’s Club Quarantine became one of the must-do digital tickets, with fans including Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Joe Biden, and Oprah. And museums and cultural institutions joined the fray, finding new ways to bring art to the people. While we suffer through the challenges of COVID-19, and yes — there are many challenges — we want to take a moment to salute those that have found new modes of creation in these most unusual of times.

Here are eight great creative things born in the time of C-19 that are giving us life.

1.  LIMBO MAGAZINE: A New Type of Magazine About the State We’re In

LIMBO is a novel rethinking of the magazine publishing model. A compendium of original, quarantine-created work from over 100 top artists — including Tom Sachs, Vivienne Westwood, Wolfgang Tillmans, and more. This grassroots idea is rooted in creating a positive outlet and paying work for creatives living in an uncertain time. In the words of Nick Chapin, the creator of LIMBO and former Director of Publishing for art-world juggernaut, Frieze Magazine:

“I started to worry about the younger artists, freelancers I’ve worked with over the past 10 years who are often living paycheck to paycheck. There’s no furlough scheme for artists, and no safety net for many people across the creative industry, so the situation seemed pretty dire. At the same time, I wondered what new ideas were bubbling up under lockdown. It was a rare moment, everyone in the world standing still. It felt like we ought to take a picture—a snapshot and a cross-section of the state of things through the eyes of the most creative people.”

And the result? Perhaps the ultimate time capsule of 2020 — as seen through the gaze of some of the most creative humans on the planet. A collection of hope, laughter, and a vision for the future.

2. Verzuz Live Battles: An Homage to Hip-Hop’s Roots in the Age Of C-19

When COVID-19 closed the curtain on live music performance, ingenuity kicked in and created another way. Veteran superstar producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland started the Verzuz series, turning their own friendly rivalry into a social media hit paying homage to hip-hop’s roots and reigniting careers.

The concept behind the Verzuz series is simple: Swizz Beatz and Timbaland curate a DJ-like Insta-Live event, choosing two Hip-Hop or R&B icons, typically from the golden age of 1990’s-early 2000s that they both came up in, to face off in two 10-song rounds. Artists play signature songs and tracks that they wrote, produced, remixed, or performed. While the performers make their magic happen, a real-time audience that has ranged from 250,000 to 710,000 (for May’s Jill Scott-Erykah Badu) cheer them on and comment on the action.

These classic rap DJ and R&B battles have become a much-needed bright spot for music lovers. Since April, Verzuz has become a quarantine cultural institution — with the adjacent creation of its own host of characters, lexicon, and community. It has revived and sparked new interest in Black legacy artists, sparking the term “the Verzuz effect,” making these online events the talk of the quarantine town.

3. Window Swap: New Twist on a Room with A View

Wanderlust calling? Travel may be on hold, but that doesn’t mean the vistas have to be. The brainchild of a wife-and-husband team of creatives living in Singapore, Vaishnav Balasubramaniam and Sonali Ranji created the ultimate “quarantine project” — Window Swap, a website that lets you travel without moving by letting you gaze out of other people’s windows all around the world. From the comfort of your own home, you get the feel of being in a new place, without the pathogenic drama of planes, trains, or automobiles. Anyone, anywhere, can access Window Swap — just visit the site and find a video of a window to look out.

Want to share your world with the world? Just shoot a 10-minute, static, horizontal locked shot video, ideally with part of your window frame or balcony door frame in the shot, and send it to this qunaliaa@gmail.com. Have fun exploring!

4. Drive-In Opera: An Aria En Plein Air

When COVID-19 shelter-in-place mandates first began, music events pivoted to virtual spaces. But now that lockdown has eased somewhat, how can fans enjoy a real-life experience without crowds? Say hello to drive-in opera! The famous International Festival of the Voice that takes place each year in Phoenicia, New York, is hosting the world’s first drive-in opera! On Saturday, August 29, one of the grandest of operas, Puccini’s Tosca will be performed live on stage and simulcast on giant Jumbotron screens. An advanced sound system will amplify the arias as you relax in the cozy cocoon of your vehicle.

When the COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary to re-envision the annual 3-day Festival of the Voice, this idea for a drive-in opera was born. 600 cars will have space to partake in this unique performance, and it may just set the stage for future events of its kind worldwide.

5. #MuseumFromHome

Just because the museums are closed doesn’t mean you can’t take in the art. When the physical doors closed, tons of museums opened virtual doors for all to experience in this time of distancing, magically making the far away tangible with a mouse’s click. Here are a few that caught our fancy:

  • Through Google Arts & Culture, you can take virtual tours of some of the world’s most impressive archeological and cultural sites.
  • The world-famous Art Basel fair. This visual celebration may have been canceled, but you can indulge the glories from home, even if you had no plans to attend the fair in-person. Scroll through its unique online viewing room, featuring more than 2,000 artworks from 235 global galleries.
  • Take a virtual guided tour of the iconic Guggenheim Museum in NYC. Join museum educators for a live shared discovery of different collections, exhibitions, and architecture. Each tour shines a spotlight on a selection of modern and contemporary artists and works to spark conversation, contemplation, and collective meaning-making. All ages and abilities are encouraged to come play.

6. Stories of Splendid Isolation – Little Moments of Literary Respite

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↔️ Stories of Splendid Isolation is a little diary that brings together thoughts of writers all over the world, documenting the signs of the way everything has changed, where we have been learning how to live together, apart. Here is a little snippet written and read by @shaheenb 💙 To hear the rest, and to listen to other stories by other authors, here’s all you need to know: Open the Google Assistant — on iOS, you’ll need to download the Google Assistant app — and say: “Hey Google, talk to Stories of Splendid Isolation”. The Google Assistant will take care of the rest. All you need to do is give yourself a couple minutes to listen. And enjoy. 🌻 We hope that by sharing short recordings and reflections from writers around the world during a time of uncertainty, we help create connected experiences, nourish minds, and calm souls. We hope this helps you feel connected and feel less alone. With Love  Anna + Britt + everyone at Google’s Creative Lab all the way in Sydney ✨ Stories of Splendid Isolation was thought up by @visualeditions and designed by @benprescottdesign . Thank you to our friends at Google Creative Lab Sydney. #StoriesOfSplendidIsolation

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Google Assistant’s Stories of Splendid Isolation creates little moments of literary respite that bring together thoughts from writers all over the world, chronicling the myriad ways everything has changed during this time of social distancing.

Using the Google Assistant app, listeners can hear writers from around the world share their thoughts and reflections on the COVID-19 crisis. It is a point of connection in these less-connected times. Created by Visual Editions in London, with help from Google’s Creative Lab, Stories of Splendid Isolation is available through Google Assistant. Each day, there’s a choice of three different authors to listen to, with each clip around two minutes long. Writer’s musings range from their personal lived experience of the pandemic to an imagining of what life might be like post-quarantine times.

To be part of this story, download the Google Assistant app, and say: “Hi Google, talk to Stories of Splendid Isolation.” Google Assistant will take care of the rest — all you have to do is give yourself a few minutes a day to listen.

7. The Sofa Singers

Sing your blues away at this twice-weekly online vocal extravaganza from James Sills, which brings hundreds of people together from around the world to sing together. The genesis of The Sofa Singers is a now-classic tale of the virtual pivot. When it became impossible to run his real-life choirs, vocal leader James Sills launched this group, connecting people globally through the power of song from cozy sofas everywhere.

It’s free and easy to take part! If you want to lend your voice to this epic auditory Zoom experiment, register here to come together in real-time and sing with hundreds of people for 45 minutes every Tuesday evening and Friday morning (UK time). Before the session, participants receive a lyric sheet and access code to join the session, where Sills takes participants through the song bit by bit.

8. Dancing Alone Together

Welcome to the transformed reality of live dance — creatively cobbled together and delivered to us wherever we are through our myriad devices, from professional companies finding new ways to dance together, to new models for movement classes that invite you to shake off your insecurities in the comfort of your kitchen, living room, or garden. In the video above, Alvin Ailey dancers move lyrically together, apart — performing an excerpt of choreographer Rennie Harris’ Lazarus.

These unusual times have also brought more regular folks into the dance fold through livestreams like DanceChurch, which captures a rotating cast of dancers, often including founder Kate Wallich, Thomas House, and Lavinia Vago — who take turns leading movement that is part virtual dance class and part joyful therapeutic release.


About the author.
An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist — Karina writes, edits, and produces compelling content across multiple platforms — including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties.

Usually committed by a well-meaning person — unaware that what they’re saying is inappropriate, gauche, or hurtful — the term microaggression captures the spirit of these slights. But make no mistake: microaggressions can cause mountains of harm.

Welcome to the world of microaggressions. It’s more macro than you think.

Microaggressions are remarks or actions that do not necessarily signal malicious intent but can inflict insult or injury just the same. These commonplace (and often unconscious) instances of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and more are insidious because they tend to happen casually and frequently — with no explicit harm intended. And if you are from a marginalized group, they may be a constant in your world.

While it might sound trivial, the cumulative effects of these countless micro messages invariably signal that you do not belong, leading to low self-esteem and feelings of alienation. And can trigger imposter syndrome (when people doubt their achievements). Research from Dr. Derald Wing Sue, Professor of Counseling Psychology at Columbia University, and others shows that microaggressions may be more harmful than overt racism or prejudice. Dr. Sue, who has written two books on microaggressions, defines the term this way: “The everyday slights, indignities, put-downs and insults that people of color, women, LGBTQ populations or those who are marginalized experiences in their day-to-day interactions with people.”

Microaggressions matter because they seem to be both symptoms and causes of larger structural problems. It can be all too easy to slight others without exerting vigilance when interacting with people whose lived experiences are “other” than our own. Lack of intention does not mean that the impact of these remarks and actions doesn’t hit hard. Microaggressions spotlight cultural differences in ways that put the receiver’s “non-conformity” on vivid display, inspiring shame while causing anxiety and crises of belonging for minorities. While they may not always be ill-intentioned, microaggressions add up, creating a hostile environment and illuminating deeper problems in our country. It’s death by a thousand and one paper cuts and counting.

What do microaggressions look like?

Any minority group in society can become a bullseye for microaggressions — women, religious minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ+ folks, and more. Here are some examples of microaggressions and the subtext behind them.

EXAMPLES:

  • “Where are you from” or “where were you born?”
  • “You speak English so well!”
  • “What are you? You’re so unique looking!”
  • A teacher or boss fails to learn or continues to mispronounce a student’s or coworker’s name after they have been corrected multiple times.

Subtext: You are not a real American. You are forever a foreigner in your own country. Your ethnicity or racial identity makes you exotic.

EXAMPLES:

  • A doctor of color is mistaken for housekeeping or service worker, or female doctor mistaken for a nurse.
  • A person of color is ignored at a store counter as attention is given to the white customer.
  • Saying “you people…”
  • In a meeting, the boss tends to call more often on male colleagues than female ones.

Subtext: People of color could not possibly hold high-status positions. Women occupy nurturing positions. People of color are less valued customers. You do not belong. You are a lesser being.

EXAMPLES:

  • A person crosses to the other side of the street to avoid a person of color.
  • A white person clutches their purse or feels for their wallet when a Black or Latino person comes towards them.
  • A store owner follows a customer of color around the store.

Subtext: You are dangerous. You are poor. You are a criminal and are going to steal. You do not belong.

EXAMPLES:

  • “You’re a credit to your race!”
  • “Wow! Impressive, how did you become so good at math?”
  • To an Asian person: “You must be great at math, can you please help me with this problem?”
  • To a woman: “I would never have guessed that you were a computer programmer!”
  • “You need to get yourself a Jewish lawyer.”

Subtext: People of color are usually not as smart. All Asians are intelligent and great at math and science. It’s unusual for a woman to have strong mathematical abilities. Jews are pushy and shrewd.

And sometimes microaggressions scream more silently, like when completing basic forms and being forced to pick Male or Female, or being presented with two options for relationship status: married or single. The implicit message? You don’t count the same way if you don’t fit these dualistic buckets.

Actionable steps to combat microaggressions?

Even those of us with the best of intentions can inadvertently commit a microaggression, and honestly — most of us have at one time or another. Committing a microaggression does not mean you are a bad person. Rather, it’s a symptom of living in a world where the dominant view tends to be Eurocentric, masculine, heterosexual, and Christian. There are steps we can take to help minimize the impact and harm of microaggressions. The first step to addressing a microaggression? Recognizing that one has occurred, then dissecting what message it might be sending.

When you are the bystander.

You witnessed what you feel is a microaggression, and you know that staying silent expresses tacit approval for what was said or done — so what should you do?

Be an ally. Your voice can be a potent force in combating microaggressions. When the target of a microaggression complains, they are often dismissed as being over-sensitive or biased.

Speak for yourself. Share why you found the comment, remark, or action upsetting. It’s vital to speak from your own experience. You don’t want to talk on behalf of the person who experienced the slight, because doing so can be a form of microaggression. From your perspective, share why you are offended, disturbed, or hurt.

One way to proactively and constructively respond to the microaggression is with a form of micro-resistance called Open The Front Door. It is an approach that can resolve conflicts quickly and efficiently while still paying respect to the listener. By using this communication technique, both parties can move on and maintain a positive relationship. Open The Front Door, or OFTD, is a mnemonic device for the four steps involved in this valuable tool.

  1. Observe. Describe in clear, unambiguous language what you see happening.
  2. Thoughts. Share what you think about what happened based on your observation. Try not to put the person on the defensive.
  3. Feelings. Express your feelings about the situation.
  4. Desire. State what you would like to have happen.

Developed to help both those on the receiving end of microaggressions and their allied colleagues address these issues in the workplace, OTFD is a potent tool because it encourages direct and transparent communication while offering clarity around goals for how to proceed after the problem has been identified. It is an incredibly malleable model that allows for a range of responses that can be modulated depending on the environment, power dynamic, and personal communication style of the individual.

When you are the microaggressor.

The proverb holds, especially here: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Even those who are members of a marginalized group can commit microaggressions against other minorities, and sometimes even against members of their own group. A Latina lesbian may succumb to a common microaggression against people with disabilities, raising her voice when speaking with a blind person as if they are also deaf — the underlying assumption being that those with disabilities are disabled in all aspects of their functioning.

So what to do if you are accused of a microaggression?

Try not to be defensive.
Before reacting, stop. Think. Consider that the person is taking a risk in sharing this information with you. Take stock of your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors — are you angry about being confronted? Do you hear yourself trying to minimize the situation? Work to listen actively, even if what you are hearing challenges you.

Acknowledge the other person’s pain. Apologize.
Take responsibility for your comment. Apologies go a long way. If you are unclear on how your comment may have offended, gently ask for clarification, sharing that you would like to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

Then reflect.
Ask yourself where the microaggression came from and how you can sidestep making the same blunder in the future. Remember that these micro slights add up, and as they do, the harm they inflict grows proportionally. Endeavor to increase your understanding of how your privilege and prejudice may skew your thinking so that you can actively shift your perception and behavior going forward.

It may be tempting to gloss over microaggressions, given that blatant racism is still an endemic problem — but the accumulated build-up of these seemingly small lacerations has profound mental and physical health consequences that cannot be overlooked. We have to take a hard look at microaggressions and make moves to mitigate them if we want to do more than pay lip service to diversity and inclusivity.


About the author.
An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist — Karina writes, edits, and produces compelling content across multiple platforms — including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties.

As copywriters, editors, and creatives, we use language and ideas to persuade, inform, promote. We may communicate across vastly different communities and cultures, with different standards and norms. And our choices have influence. So how do we manage to talk about race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, economic status, and other identities in a fast paced, rapidly changing—and often politically volatile—environment?

I’ll start by sharing that I’m a writer with experience in activism and communications for social justice organizations. I’m not an expert and my lived experience has provided both some privilege and challenges around identity. I’ve made mistakes and I will make others. I’ve encouraged other writers to rethink some of their choices. And I have my own discomfort about writing this piece because it is a contentious topic and messing up can seem risky.

Language Evolves

Words come into our lexicon all the time through cultural exchanges, new technologies, or memes that stick. Perhaps you’re an etymology nerd who knows that words like “ketchup” come from the Chinese or that “thagomizer” (the spikes on the tail of a dinosaur), was used in the Far Side comic before becoming informally adopted by scientists. Maybe you look out for which words get added to the dictionary every year. Or perhaps you readily accepted the use of “they” pronouns or dropping the Oxford comma.

No matter what, you know that we don’t speak Dickensian English. We generally accept that language changes. So why are some people so resistant to change and to feedback about the language and choices that they make? In My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, Resmaa Menakem describes “white-body supremacy.” He writes that the trauma and history of racism is felt within and upon the body by white bodies, by Black or other dark bodies, and by the bodies of public safety professionals. That fear and pain in the body, he argues, is what needs to be settled and metabolized through somatic (body) practices. In other words, people get activated in their primal brains, and their reactions to this discomfort reflect this.

Just as some words enter into the language, other words or phrases get phased out because they have sticky historical connotations or are outright offensive. It might take some education and understanding of history to learn that the phrase “grandfathered in” or the word “boss,” for example, have their roots in our racial history. Many people refrain from using words with negative connotations around mental health or disability. Some women cringe at the idea of being called ma’am, while, regionally and generationally, others may find it polite. Know your audience and interrogate the language that is used.

Be Curious and Ask Questions

Some people bemoan that there isn’t a complete list that they can refer to of words or phrases that are problematic, or that historically have negative or harmful meanings. The path to justice isn’t linear and known. We must accept that there will never be a comprehensive list because language continues to change — and we continue to analyze and learn. Don’t let the fear of making a mistake deter you from engaging with challenging social and political issues. Or assume that because you’ve read a book on the subject, that you have completed the work or that things won’t continue to change.

Be Transparent

Think about the choices that you make and why. Acknowledge them. Ask people you are describing how they want to be identified. For example, some people in the disability community prefer the phrasing “person with a disability” because it is “person first” language; others favor identity first language, such as “disabled person.” Differences could be regional, like the use of “Anglo” in the southwest, or they could be generational, like the use of “queer” versus “gay,” or they could be highly personal. Language that centers violence, like “fight for x,” is also increasingly seen as problematic by some clients.

If You Do Make a Mistake, Apologize and Learn from It

When a listserv that’s geared to media professionals recently sent out an email with a subject line that completely missed the mark and insulted people with disabilities, they certainly heard from other writers. But they promptly understood and accepted that they made a mistake. They sent another email apologizing: no dancing around the issue, simply accepting that an error was made and making a commitment to do better.

That said, there are excellent resources for creatives who want to be aware of the language they employ:

As writers, we can easily say something differently or by using different words. Don’t get stuck or attached to using a familiar phrase that is outdated. Shakespeare was so skilled at this, there’s even a Shakespearean insult generator. Find creative solutions to words and phrases that fall out of favor.

We’ve recently heard from many companies and brands that acknowledge the work they need to do around racial justice. These are good things and barometers of change. Perhaps your company is newly committed to racial justice or maybe it was at the forefront.

It’s critical to listen to feedback and to correct our mistakes. What might be acceptable today might not be acceptable tomorrow. When change is necessary, as writers, we can be stewards of it.


About the author.
Jess Powers writes about marketing, food, and wellness. She has experience in nonprofit communications and emergency management. Follow her @foodandfury.

As a twenty-don’t worry about it-year old, I was not above grumbling about Generation Z, with their TikTok videos, seemingly missing awkward phases, and “know it all” aggressive personalities. Having spent the last two years working with college students, I admit it. I was wrong.

This generation is fiercely passionate, incredibly savvy, shockingly mature, and fired up to make a difference. I have worked with students who, at 21 years old, knew they wanted to create more equitable access to public parks or wanted to research the impact of trauma on incarcerated populations. They have written books, founded nonprofits, raised tens of thousands of dollars for causes they care about. Importantly, this is also the most diverse workforce we have ever seen in America.

In 2020, it’s estimated that up to 4.4 million Gen Zers will replace 3.6 million retiring baby boomers — the least diverse sector of the labor force. If you want to build a more diverse industry, the most effective way to do so is starting at the bottom of your organization.

Our traditional corporate mindset has been to use a “top down” approach to building these values into a company culture. We have seen a rise in hiring Chief Diversity Officers or bringing more women and BIPOC professionals to board meetings. These are highly visible roles, and certainly an important step in moving towards creating more diverse industries. But they can often just be a signalling tactic, rather than a step towards deeper change. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that CDOs in particular are not set up to succeed, because they are not provided the resources needed to take on what is usually an unreasonable set of expectations. Essentially, these leaders are tasked with the sole responsibility of dismantling what may be a decades-old company culture of racism, sexism, ableism, white supremacy, and more.

When it comes to efficiently and meaningfully bringing a change to ANY industry, the key is not just in hiring leaders from underrepresented communities or with ‘nontraditional’ backgrounds. Creating a long-lasting and sustained culture change within industries that have been historically homogeneous or have struggled to see true reform requires playing the long game. There is no overnight fix here, but there is a clear investment that few organizations are currently making: recruiting, training, and supporting young and diverse entry-level employees.

Let’s walk through the funnel of recruiting to retaining. There are several key considerations in creating a process that is effective and responsive to the values of this generation:

Recruitment

Start by taking a hard look at where you currently recruit and the kinds of applications you source. For example, in the last two years, we’ve learned that many students from underrepresented communities don’t feel comfortable going to typical recruiting events or using career centers. It’s important to dig deeper into why you may not be attracting a more diverse candidate pool, and be willing to invest in new and creative ways to connect. It may be easiest to just throw a job posting out to your existing network or channels, and wait for a few safe choices to come in. However, diversifying your talent pipeline requires significant effort to reach beyond your or your leadership team’s circles. We spend hours researching institutions, administrators, professors, and student leaders so we can reach out to beyond our immediate network. We also find that scheduling one-on-one (virtual) coffee chats with students, building rapport and trust even before an application is filled out, is an incredibly valuable time commitment.

Hiring

What do you consider a “promising” candidate? Is it the college they went to? Their GPA? If they have relevant work experience? The more applications we read and more students we work with, the more we have realized that these markers tell an incomplete story of what someone can bring to the table. For example, there is a lot of literature around the discomfort and insecurity first-generation college students experience on campuses, which may lead to lower GPAs or fewer industry-related internships. So what if we eliminated requiring GPAs as part of the hiring process? We need to toss out our old measuring sticks for success, and create a more holistic approach to evaluating potential hires. We already have seen a rise in soft skills proficiency in professional success; identifying candidates with the lived experience and the emotional intelligence to thrive at your organization is an important way to strengthen the team overall.

Onboarding

All I’ll say here is pay your employees more. Particularly if you are committed to diversity. There is a disconnect in the narrative between investing in DEI training, seminars, speakers and investing in your existing talent,making sure they are being paid a fair salary. Be cognizant of the types of financial hurdles a young person faces as they start their careers. They may need assistance with moving costs, transportation for interviews, or a bonus to cover the typical “first and last month rent” deposit required when you get an apartment for the first time.

Black men get paid $0.87 for every $1.00 that white men do. Black women get paid $0.63 for every $1.00 that white men do. It is one of the few problems that can actually be solved by throwing money at it!

Supporting

Two years ago, there was a lot of online water cooler chatter about Google being unable to retain Black and Latinx employees. We know that it’s not enough to just bring more diverse talent in, but to create internal systems to ensure that they are comfortable, respected, and thriving. By bringing in more young people who may be ‘fresh’ and require more training, you actually invest in creating an organic sub-culture of support and shared experience that, over time, will go mainstream as they rise up the ranks.

There is also a need to invest in training managers to be more conscientious mentors and colleagues to employees who may have backgrounds or lived experiences that are unfamiliar, so that they understand how to best listen and support accordingly. Bringing in outside coaches who specialize in these topics is a meaningful investment, and can help bring in a fresh approach that fills your potential blind spots.

There are also seemingly innocuous practices in how organizations and offices are run day-to-day that can leave BIPOC staff feeling particularly alienated or uncomfortable. We’ve created company cultures that are built on white culture; when someone’s working- or interpersonal-styles seemingly conflict with those (e.g. how they wear their hair, their collaboration strategy, their daily written communication style), we deem it “unprofessional.” However, it is often the case that as you introduce more diverse thought, practice, and ideas into your organization, you haven’t created the internal infrastructure to slow down and allow those to settle in and flourish. This piece highlights some ways that we perpetuate white supremacy in the workplace, and how to to actively dismantle those patterns.

Finally, provide your employees with much clearer and more robust tools to take on situations when they may experience microaggressions or overt racism. Remember, we are talking about people who are entering the workforce for the first time and may not have any external support system. They need to know exactly what steps to take to report toxic behavior, and trust that there are processes in place to protect them.


About the author.
Mariam Matin is one of the co-founders of Second Day, an organization dismantling inequitable talent pipelines into social impact through their Impact Fellowship program. She started her career in New York doing brand marketing at digital advertising agency Undertone and then transitioned to product marketing for the Digital Payments team at Chase. She also is a certified User Experience designer, and continues to take a data-driven, creative, and user-centric approach to the work she does at Second Day. She is also the host of the new podcast “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” which highlights moments in history that pop culture and politics collide. A native Texan with the heart of a New Yorker, she currently resides in Houston.

One hundred years ago, after over a century of proposals, petitions, and protests, the 19th Amendment was finally ratified, granting women the right to vote. The road to that ratification is long, messy and complex, just like most of American history. As with many complex battles, there are lessons to be learned. Here’s a breakdown of what the suffragettes did well, and where they failed.

Finding the Angle

While most of our modern fights come from a human rights and justice perspective, the women’s suffrage movement had to get crafty with their point of view. Some people feared giving women the vote would lead to familial chaos and a breakdown of societal structure. (Men in power truly are the biggest drama queens out there.) So instead, suffragettes focused on how giving women the vote would favorably affect families and society. This affected the tone of their pamphlets, the kinds of events they held, and even the way they dressed.

suffragetteImage credit: Woman Suffrage Memorabilia

Battling Bad Press

Anti-suffrage propaganda was fierce as hell, although modern women have probably seen worse in the deep dark corners of the internet (and probably their inboxes). Looking back, it’s jarring (and honestly sad) that so many of these posters showed men taking care of children as a societal nightmare instead of the utter joy most modern fathers see it as.

Instead of further bruising the male ego, the suffragettes came up with a range of campaigns to quell the fear of social disaster and familiar destruction. These included:

  • Fundraising suffrage coffee + tea
  • Suffragette cookbooks, claiming “the best cooks are suffragettes”
  • Postcards and greeting cards with cute and clever cartoons
  • Social events, balls, and parades
  • Swag on parade day: buttons, leaflets, “keep cool” fans
  • Pins to rouse conversation and later the “jailed for freedom” pin (see “The Tides Turn” below)
  • Mascots, sashes, banners, and coordinated colors
  • A film that actually showed suffragettes in a positive light (because there were many that didn’t): Your Girl and Mine
  • Coordinating with photographers to capture pivotal moments (see “The Tides Turn” below)

They additionally used the power of symbols and imagery to draw attention, change associations and garner recognition to their plight. For instance, they used the color white to battle their image as ugly spinsters to show purity of cause, youth and vitality. (I’m not saying it’s cool, I’m just saying it’s what happened.)

Lesson: “When they go low, we go high.” — Michelle Obama

Image credit: Library of Congress

Selling Out the Sisterhood

Many suffragettes decided to distance themselves from the Black women among their ranks because they believed focusing on the vote for white women would help their cause. They departed from their abolitionist roots and started courting Southern women, leaving out their Black sisters to appease the racially-divided south.

Not only was it cringeworthy, this tactic clearly failed as Black men won the vote before women did.

Lesson: Throwing your comrades under the bus has consequences and is not a good look in the eyes of history.

Racism Within the Movement

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, most of the suffragettes were problematic at best and horribly racist at worse. When Black men won the vote before women as the 15th amendment was ratified, white suffragettes were, in a single phrase, less than pleased. Susan B. Anthony went on to proclaim, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” Yikes.

White women saw the 15th amendment as a slap in the face, turning a blind eye to the crimes of white southern women (who had made up 30% of slave owners), and essentially upheld a white supremacist stance to court political favor.

Lesson: Kill your idols. Every. Single. One.

Black Women Speak Up

“I feel that I have the right to have just as much as a man. There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and colored women not theirs, the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.”

— Sojourner Truth (1867)

Interestingly enough, the famous “Ain’t I a woman?” speech may not have even contained that phrase, as Truth’s words were changed to sound more southern 12 years after the original transcription by Frances Dana Gage. Truth didn’t speak in a southern dialect as she grew up in New York, but as Tammy L. Brown points out, these vernacular changes “depicted Truth to white audiences as a genuine albeit primitive ally in the fight for women’s rights… this progress is tainted by white suffragists’ attempts to control Truth’s voice.” Despite the bastardization of her words, this OG abolitionist and champion of civil rights kept speaking out until the day she died, fighting for the liberty of all people.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a lesser known MVP of the suffrage and early civil rights movement, was outspoken about how little white liberals were doing to oppose crimes against Black Southerners. She organized an anti-lynching campaign and then went on to organize the Alpha Suffrage Club for Black women in Chicago. The women were met with opposition from the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession. Wells-Barnett refused to be delegated to the back of the parade and instead rushed in to walk between two white supporters to protest the segregation decision. Despite the efforts of many of the suffrage movement’s leaders, activists like Wells-Barnett would not back down from contributing to the movement.

Lesson: Segregation is no way to dismantle the patriarchy.

Deeds, Not Words

In 1913, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns broke from the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to form the National Women’s Party (NWP) because they thought the NAWSA were not getting rowdy enough to make s#*t happen. They were a significantly smaller force — 50,000 vs. NAWSA’s 2 million — but they went hard. They continued protests during World War I, calling out Woodrow Wilson’s hypocritical war stance, while NAWSA took a break from campaigning to contribute to the war effort instead. The NWP were focused on winning a federal amendment rather than the NAWSA’s state-by-state approach, as they felt that strategy had already taken too long.

Their tactics included:

  • Aggressive agitation
  • Relentless lobbying
  • Creative publicity stunts
  • Repeated acts of nonviolent confrontation
  • Examples of civil disobedience

During their wartime protests, the “Silent Sentinels” were arrested, beaten, and tortured. Any anti-government criticism during the war was seen as treason.

Lesson: The road to justice is a bumpy one. We area standing on the shoulders of women and men who faced government cruelty in response to calls for equality—which inadvertently worked to tip the scales in favor of the oppressed. When the going gets tough, the tough double down for their cause.

The Tides Turn

In the early 20th Century, suffragette art became more sophisticated and targeted. Posters and ads depicted the glory of equality that had already been won at the state level in much of the west, the education, work, and taxes women have contributed to society, and depictions of torture in prisons.

Leaders like Alice Burns coordinated with the press to get images of suffragette arrests in newspapers across the nation. They also created the Jailed for Freedom pin that was given to all the women who were arrested and tortured for picketing and demanding the vote. By circulating photographs of their arrests, the suffragettes were able to paint a more sympathetic portrait of their cause.

Eventually, Puck magazine, which originally published anti-suffrage cartoons, started publishing pro-suffrage cartoons instead. Public opinion started to turn, the women’s contribution to the war effort became undeniable, and enough representatives were finally worn down enough (or convinced, who knows) to vote for the 19th amendment’s ratification.

“Women have suffered agony of soul which you can never comprehend, that you and your daughters might inherit political freedom. That vote has been costly. Prize it!” — Carrie Chapman Catt (1920)

However, this wasn’t the end of the fight, especially for Black women, who had additional barriers and voter suppression to contend with. In fact, the battle for universal suffrage isn’t quite over, at least not in practice. With voter ID laws, the shutdown of polling locations, reduced opportunities for registration, limiting early and mail-in voting,*  and most pressingly attacks on the US Postal Service, voters are facing more challenges than ever to cast their ballot.

*These measures were introduced in more than a dozen pivotal states after voter turnout increased between 2004 and 2008 which has me shaking my head, to say the least.

What can we do? Save the USPSCall our Senators and Representatives to demand an end to voter suppression (along with any other issues you may care to bring up), and for the love of liberty, VOTE.

Lesson: The truth of oppressive brutality, targeted lobbying, and showing your worth can swing public opinion, but the battle is never truly over.


About the author.
Alessandra is the mentor, educator, and writer behind Boneseed, a private practice devoted to deep self-inquiry through a range of physical, energetic, and mental modalities. She has over 500 hours of yoga, mentorship, and facilitation training and can be found slinging knowledge on her website, newsletter, and @bone.seed.

As a copywriter or creative, you may be tasked with creating alt text (or alternative text) for images that appear in the digital content that you make. Having a good understanding of how alt text is used will help you to make your work more accessible. Here are some best practices for creating text descriptions.

What is Alt Text?

Image text alternatives explain a picture, illustration, or chart through web page markup. People who are blind or low vision can use a screen reader like JAWS, which reads text on the web to them. People with slow internet connections may turn off images to load pages faster, showing the text description of the image instead. Also, people with cognitive or learning disabilities may elect to read text descriptions of images for better comprehension.

Complying with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines affirms the right of people with disabilities to be able to navigate the web freely and independently. While the average reading speed for an adult is around 300 words per minute, a person accustomed to using a screen reader may process text as fast as 500 wpm (like speeding up a podcast). Without image descriptions, even if the image isn’t necessary to comprehend the page, the screen reader sometimes reads an error. This creates confusion or frustration because the site is not fully accessible to the user.

If an image has a function, such as a donate button or to click somewhere, without alt text, the user will be lost. They might not be able to make a purchase, to fill out a form, or to understand an important piece of information. It’s worth mentioning that W3C WAI guidelines say that if an image is decorative, it should simply have null alt (alt=””). But many people in the disability community and their allies add a short description regardless.

Context is Everything

People who use screen readers — like sighted people — scan a page of text. That’s why it’s so important to use properly formatted headers, so the reader can jump from one section to another. Other navigation tools ensure that the reader doesn’t get stuck in a navigation trap or endlessly scrolling through a page. When an image conveys information about what is being discussed, tabbing through image descriptions can help the person using a screen reader to understand the content of the page or article. Or it may be necessary to advance within the page.

The first step to writing better alt text is to understand the context for which the image is being used. Often an image is intended simply to break up large blocks of text on a page but is related to the subject. It may not be crucial to understanding the meaning of the text, or it can show something mentioned in the text for emphasis. Keep descriptions short. A simple alt text like “woman seated at desk, using computer” is enough. Cut unnecessary words: you don’t have to write “image of” or “link” because the screen reader provides that information.

Many people attempt to describe an image in greater detail, such as: “white woman wearing blue and white striped shirt seated at desk, working on computer and smiling.” In this case, think about the purpose of the image and whether the color of her skin or shirt is critical to comprehend the page. Some graphic designers, photographers, or art directors, who rely more on visual information, can get bogged down in the details of an image. But it’s not necessary to describe every detail unless it adds value to the reader’s understanding of the image and the content of the story.

If an image is essential for understanding the content of the story, clearly explain what it depicts. For example: “people at rally holding signs saying ‘xyz’” or “empty shelves of coronavirus tests.”

Shorter is Better. Usually.

Shannon Finnegan (they/them) is an artist who examines disability in their multidisciplinary work. With artwork constantly being shared on websites and in social media, Finnegan became curious about accessibility and exploring the questions that come up as we try to describe images. With collaborator and fellow disabled artist, Bojana Coklyat, they teach workshops on “Alt Text as Poetry.”

If a picture is worth a thousand words, well, it seems that “sighted people have a tendency to over describe,” Finnegan confirms. Perhaps it’s because they’re constantly engaging with and categorizing visual information. Or maybe they’re concerned about making a mistake. But usually a concise description is better, saving the reader time and conveying the significance of the image without describing every detail.

It Should Match the Tone of the Piece

Finnegan interrogates subjectivity in the alt text workshops. They believe that when possible, there should be a “unified perspective or voice” in digital content. It can be confusing if a piece is confessional and the images are described in an objective way. In a first person piece, it might make sense to even use slang or jargon in a description.

Finnegan points out that it is also a choice to have a very technical description of an image. It’s not neutral, and something is lost when the feeling of an image isn’t conveyed.

It is also possible to be more transparent in image descriptions. If an image is being used to convey a point, the description could use less authoritative words. It can demonstrate that the image is being interpreted: “seems to show,” “can be,” etc.

Don’t Forget about Complex Images

Many people forget or avoid including alt text when it’s far more challenging. Social media graphics with long pull quotes or charts with lots of detail are complicated. Meaning is being conveyed through images with text or through data visualization. In these examples, it is necessary to explain the information in greater detail.

The DIAGRAM Center has extensive resources and training tools for how to describe more complex images, like flow charts, maps, and diagrams. If you are a creative who regularly designs infographics or charts, it’s worthwhile to check out their slide decks.

Another challenge is describing people. There can be value judgements ascribed when mentioning a facial expression or gesture. Some people think that it is best to omit descriptions of race or ethnicity entirely. Others think that it can be more direct to describe skin tone, physical characteristics, or body type. Sometimes it may also be important for the client to show that the images include a specific population.

Gender identity and expression is another challenge. The writer may assume that they know the identity of the person pictured. Where possible, Finnegan suggests, ask people to provide the image description for their own headshot or portrait. That enables them to share any personal preferences they may have about language and identity.

We make assumptions and categorize people all the time visually. This becomes even more apparent when thinking about describing an image for alt text. The complexity of visual information can be overwhelming at times, but that leads to the next point.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect

Many people worry about getting it right when they need to create alt text. But omitting a description altogether is far worse than an imperfect description. Practice helps. Discuss standards or tone for image descriptions for a particular project in advance. Include them in a style guide. It’s helpful to think about why you’re making the choices that you’re making and to understand that they are, in fact, choices.

These are “interesting and complicated questions,” Finnegan believes, adding that we can all “practice together.”

With more lawsuits opposing lack of equal access and a greater awareness of accessibility in general, writing good alt text is not just “a nice thing to do.” It ensures that people with disabilities have the same access to information as everyone else.


About the author.
Jess Powers writes about marketing, food, and wellness. She has experience in nonprofit communications and emergency management. Follow her @foodandfury.