Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Teams Up with Getty to Revive Stock Images of Women

Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg

Can You Be It if You Can’t See It?

Sheryl Sandberg’s is partnering with the stock-photo giant Getty Images to provide a library of new images that better represent women.

Why does this matter?

Well, in Sandberg’s words, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

I think the problem is bigger than that, though. Even the roles that women are already filling, with competence and acceptance, are not represented in stock photo images. So, obviously, we CAN be what we can’t see. But how does not seeing ourselves affect us … all of us, young and old, male and female?

So What?

Not everyone finds this endeavour worthwhile. If you research the announcement online, you’ll see many comments questioning the need for new stock images. For example:

“This is so dumb …  if there was an incredibly pressing desire for this equitable stock-art as the media informs us there is, someone would already be producing this material and it would be a non-issue.” [Found here.]


“Let [’s] get on with our lives ladies and gentlemen. Men don’t compare themselves to advertisements or that ideal image that advertisers try to push down our throats. — we just say to ourselves ‘who cares it’s an advertisement.’” {Found here.]

Should we care about the images in stock photos?

I might not have thought so if I hadn’t gotten such a rude awakening last year when selecting photos for a new legal website.

I’d been hired to write new content for this website. The designer had already chosen and placed a raft of stock photos on the site under development. And the more I looked at the images, the greater my sense of disconnect with the realities of my client’s business and clientele.

When I broached the subject with my client, I realized that nobody else had noticed, including the designer.

“What’s the demographic of your clients?” I asked. “All the photos on your new site are of people in their early to mid twenties. Is that an accurate reflection of your client base?”

“No,” the client assured me, “all our clients are at least in their thirties. Most of them are in their forties or fifties.”

Once alerted to this disconnect, the client asked me to hunt down more representative photos.

But before I solved the age problem, I noticed another one.

The services page for their financial specialists pictured a male professional advising a couple across a shiny glass desk. But the two financial specialists I’d interviewed were women. Were they the exceptions? Is it a male-dominated profession? Back to the client.

“So, are most of your financial specialists men?” I asked.

“None of them are men,” my client informed me. “All women.”

I confess to you that, at this point, I had some petty thoughts about the designer’s competence. Why did they select images of young clients for an organization that serves older ones? And why did they place images of male professionals on pages that describe a female-dominated profession?

Then I started looking at stock photo sites. Go ahead, try it yourself. See how many photos you can find of non-twentysomethings. I’m here to tell you: not many.

And photos of women dispensing expert advice in a professional setting? Really, really hard to find. Believe me, I combed the Internet for hours.

Am I the only one looking for images that better represent women, of all ages, in a diversity of roles? Apparently not. Today’s NYT article reports that “the three most-searched terms in Getty’s image database are ‘women,’ ‘business’ and ‘family.’”

I did manage to find a few new images that added some age and gender diversity to the website. And by “diversity,” I really mean TRUTH. Because the financial specialists really ARE women. And the clients really ARE older.

But to this day, the photo on the financial specialist page depicts a handsome young man in a business suit pointing to a spreadsheet and explaining something to a beautiful young blonde woman wearing a t-shirt and jeans.

The folks at Getty and Lean In have selected 2,500 new images, and plan to keep adding to the library. I applaud them.

I’ll give Ms. Sandberg the last word.

“At Facebook, I think about the role marketing plays in all this, because marketing is both reflective of our stereotypes and reinforces stereotypes. Do we partner into sexism or do we partner against sexism?”

Calling All Artists: Get to Work!

In this video, writer, martial arts teacher and zen priest Keith Martin-Smith interviews his brother, celebrated fine artist Mark T. Smith. The brothers talk about the challenges facing artists today and inquire into what’s shifting as Millenials take on the art world.

“For me,” says Smith, “art is about ennobling the public.” He bemoans the fact that, in today’s upper-echelon art world, he’s not seeing much that’s ennobling.

When his writer-brother asks him what advice he’d give to artists just starting out, Martin-Smith replies, “Get out of the fucking coffee shop and go to work … Get to the studio, start working.”

Now, that’s advice that applies to all of us, whatever our medium or message.

This interview is part of Martin-Smith’s current writing project, a novel-in-progress called Only Everything: A Novel (All About You) for which he’s seeking crowdfunding. Check out his Kickstarter page.

Martin-Smith sold his house to fund his last novel, A Heart Blown Open, which was promptly rejected by his agent. He realized that he’d been subconsciously holding back, “so I could tell myself, ‘Yeah, but I didn’t really try’ when rejection inevitably came.” Discouraged, but only temporarily deterred, he got back to work.

This time I held nothing back, and if the writing wasn’t good enough now, I could at least say that I could do no more, write no better.  This was me at my best, and there was no more to give.  I put everything into this book — time, money, sense of self, purpose for being, and every single ounce of talent I had.

At 38 years of age, I finally became a writer because I finally understood what that meant.

The book went on to be published and to win the Silver Medal Award from Nautilus Books for 2013.

Why You Should Go to Pecha Kucha Night

PechaKuchaPinkTonight I attended Vancouver’s 28th Pecha Kucha Night. I’ve been going to Pecha Kucha for nearly two years now, and it’s become my favourite cultural event. If you haven’t yet been to a Pecha Kucha Night, do yourself a favour and go. No matter where you are in the world, there’s probably a Pecha Kucha near you.

Think of Pecha Kucha as a local, informal, affordable version of Ted Talks. Ten presenters show 20 slides each for 20 seconds per slide. I learn things about my own city I never imagined and get inspired by the amazing, creative, transformative things people are doing.

Pecha Kucha was started in Tokyo in 2003 by a couple of architects, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, who wanted a way for people to share their creative work with each other. Pecha Kucha has since spread to well over 500 cities worldwide. It takes place in bars, restaurants, churches, beaches and prisons. Pecha Kucha Vancouver is one of the biggest, selling out the Vogue Theatre every couple of months or so. Tickets are a bargain at $15.

If you’re curious or can’t attend in person, you can watch online. But this can’t possibly match the electric buzz and human connection of the live events.

PechaKuchaNameSlideTonight I learned that:

  • Elephants grieve, flirt and make jokes
  • Vancouver has one of only two jewellers in North America that uses fair trade gold
  • A talk at Pecha Kucha #5 grew into a documentary film and photo-history project on Liberia
  • Vancouver is considered the most Asian city in the world outside of Asia
  • Lives are being changed and saved around the world by soccer camps, a simple water filtration system and a funding model that feeds photo royalties to development projects

If you get a chance, check out your local Pecha Kucha Night. Or, if there isn’t one near you, get in touch with the PK organizers and start one yourself.



To Create Is to Start Over in a Foreign Country

Wanda_Koop_Winnipeg_Free_PressWinnipeg painter and activist Wanda Koop has been making art for nearly 40 years. She is regarded as one of Canada’s most inventive artists.

Koop’s mother, an oral historian, fled the Ukraine during the Russian Revolution. She and Wanda returned to the Ukraine together in 1997 in search of family roots, and Wanda captured their journey in her searingly beautiful documentary film, Wanda Koop: In Her Eyes. (If you’re in Canada, you might find a copy through your local library. It’s a National Film Board production.)

When I first viewed the film, well over ten years ago, I jotted this passage down. I keep coming back to it. Koop’s comparison of the art process to being a refugee stays with me:

When we come to a new place and when people are forced to start over, in many ways that is the art process … [I]n order to create a body of work, we have to be incredibly brave and we have to start from nothing, in a sense, and we have to go to a place that’s as foreign as a new country and we have to learn a whole new language.

How does this relate to all the facile advice on creativity that assures us we can make art without ever leaving the comforts of home?

Koop says it another way in this video clip:

When I’m actually painitng, I’m painting something I’m seeing in my head, not something that exists in the world. I paint it, and then I look at it.



Great Writing Advice from 3 Pro Bloggers

Where do you go for great advice about writing and freelancing? Start here, with three of my favourite posts of the week, from three reliably savvy bloggers.

Marial's deskFirst off is my fellow Vancouverite Daphne Gray-Grant, the “Publication Coach.” She dishes out a steady stream of sharp advice on writing “faster and better,” for both beginners and pros. Check out her post, 5 Stupidly Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing.

Next, Carol Tice offers six empowering tips on how to get started as a freelance writer in The Advice I Wish I’d Had as a New Freelance Writer. “I’m kind of obsessed with helping writers earn more from their work,” writes Carol on her website, Make a Living Writing.

And last, but definitely not least, is the lovely Alexandra Franzen. Her post, I spent an hour with The Oprah Whisperer. (Oh yeah!) Here’s what I learned about telling a soundbite-sized story … lays out a five-point guide to the essential art of “story-shrinkifying.”

Happy reading!

Creativity Tips from Psychology Today

The June issue of Psychology Today presents research on creativity that lends weight to two of my recent blog posts, and a number of my closely held beliefs. Which, I’m sure, is their main purpose over there at Psychology Today: looking for solid evidence to shore up my personal theories.

labcoats“The Enemies of Invention” explores five “stealth saboteurs” of our creative process in five short articles. It strikes me that Austin Kleon covers similar territory in his book Steal Like An Artist (which I wrote about here) without once mentioning scientific studies. But it’s nice to don our vicarious lab coats once in a while, isn’t it?

Christopher J. Sprigman and Kal Raustiala present their version of “Steal Like An Artist” in their piece “The Downside of Avoiding Imitation.” They write:

Very little, if anything, is wrought out of nothing. In practice, creativity is a cumulative process, one that often involves tweaking, adapting, and melding existing creations.

In support of this goal of encouraging a greater migration of ideas, they propose that “too much legal protection” in the form of patent and copyright laws “actually makes it hard to be truly creative.” They argue that shorter periods of protection would lead to more, not less, creative output.

In “Fear of Failure Narrows Vision,” Peter Gray presents research showing that

In physically demanding tasks, like lifting heavy weights, and in tedious tasks, like counting beans, we do better when we are being evaluated than when we are not. But in tasks that require creativity, new insights, or learning, we do better when we are not being evaluated, so are not afraid of failure.

This resonates nicely with the story I quoted in this post from Art and Fear, about the ceramics teacher dividing his class into two groups, and showing that the group being graded by volume of output produced more creative pots than those assigned the making of a single perfect pot.

Gray notes that, from an evolutionary perspective, we can be creative only when we do not feel that our survival is under threat. But being evaluated “when it is not asked for and when it has consequences” causes us to feel threatened. Therefore, being evaluated locks down our creative process.

Gray cites experiments by Harvard Business School psychologist Teresa Amabile in which she had participants create a poem, story or artwork. She told one group their work would be evaluated by experts, another that theirs would be entered into a contest, while a third group was told nothing. Consistently, the most creative work (according to a panel of experts!) was produced by those who did not know they were being evaluated.

Check out the Psychology Today article for three more insightful pieces on creativity crushers and how to avoid them. Then, get out there and make those pots/poems/blog posts. Steal like an artist. Go for quantity.

Osborne & Little’s New Wallpaper Captures Beloved Penguin Classics

The inspired British fabric and wallpaper designer Osborne & Little has brilliantly married two of my obsessions, books and interior design, in their recently released Penguin Library wallpaper. With this collage of front covers from the famous Penguin publishing house, you can now have these iconic tri-banded paperbacks covering your walls without all that annoying reading!

Penguin Library Wallpaper from Osborne & Little

Penguin Library Wallpaper from Osborne & Little

Launched in 1935, the Penguin paperbacks not only broke the book-design mold, but their low prices made quality literature more accessible than it had ever been. According to the Osborne and Little press release:

The Penguin tri-band design was the work of Edward Young, a 21-year-old office junior who went on to become the company’s first Production Manager, who was also dispatched to London zoo to sketch a penguin for the now well-recognised and much-loved logo. The template he created consisted of three horizontal stripes: upper and lower bands colour coded by genre … and a central white panel containing the author and, of course, they came printed with the iconic Penguin logo. The distinctive simplicity was a radical departure from the more ornate approach of its competitors and spoke volumes about the new company.


The Saturday Papers

The reading room of the Boston Public Library, an engraving drawn by J. J. Harley and printed January 1871 in Every Saturday, a weekly newspaper published in Boston by James Osgood & Co.

The reading room of the Boston Public Library, an engraving drawn by J. J. Harley and printed January 1871 in Every Saturday, a weekly newspaper published in Boston by James Osgood & Co.

On Saturdays, one of my simple pleasures is going to the local library and reading the Saturday papers. My favourite is the Globe and Mail, because of the smart writing and insightful arts coverage.

But my friend John, a retired career advisor, also reads the Saturday Globe, and we tend to show up around the same time, so there’s an unspoken competition as to who will get the paper first. Usually, he wins. Today, as usual, I walked into the library and spotted him at one of the centre tables, bent over the pages of the Saturday Globe.

So I sat down in the lounge area with the Vancouver Sun instead. Until Mr. Chan came and sat down beside me. Mr. Chan is 93 years old and a former neighbour. He’s a photographer, and he interrupted my reading to shyly ask for help getting his downloaded photos moved from his flash drive to his computer so he could crop them.

I work on Macs and he uses an ancient PC, so I didn’t know how to find much of anything on his laptop. Plus Mr. Chan is nearly deaf, and it’s the damn library, so I’m trying to ask him questions without making too much noise.

The Old Newspaper Reading Room in the British Museum Bloomsbury. Sell's Dictionary of the World's Press 1893. Copyright ©1999, The British Library Board.

The Old Newspaper Reading Room in the British Museum Bloomsbury. Sell’s Dictionary of the World’s Press 1893. Copyright ©1999, The British Library Board.

We didn’t accomplish much beyond cropping and saving one photo and making a tentative date for future efforts. Guess I’ll have to do a little research about saving files and working with photos on PCs.

Then a young woman came into the lounge with a tiny crying infant. I think she had some kind of disability, like fetal alcohol syndrome. While she nursed the baby, we talked about how she’d been up since six this morning and had taken the baby swimming. She said she was too tired to go to her church meeting tonight, which starts at 6 and goes until 10. I helped her pack up her stuff while the baby dozed off in the stroller.

All of which is to say, I still have the Saturday Globe to read. It’s just as good on Sunday.



Poetry Deficiency? Billy Collins Can Help

American poet Billy Collins believes poetry should be out rubbing shoulders with the rabble:

billy_collins_1“When you get a poem on a billboard or on the radio or on a cereal box, it happens to you so suddenly that you don’t have time to deploy your anti-poetry deflector shields that were installed in high school.”

Collins’ popularity as a poet may well be unprecedented in our time. Having served two terms as US Poet Laureate (as he himself loves to point out), he speaks to us of suburban middle-class life in language ordinary people understand. His readings regularly sell out and he has received six-figure advances for recent books.

All of that aside, I just love his poems. I listened to a recording of him reading his poem “Forgetfulness” years ago, and I still think of it often. Everyone I’ve ever read it to has asked for a copy. I think we recognize ourselves in his words. I love hearing the audience respond to his reading of that poem.

In his 2012 Ted Talk, he gives us what he calls our “recommended dietary allowance of poetry.” The talk includes animations of several of his poems, a marriage of mediums he initially doubted, until he realized it would “get poetry on television.” The funniest poem in the Ted Talk, though, is the last one, with no animation, a deliciously tongue-in-cheek commentary on adolescence.

You’re looking a bit poetry deficient yourself. You’d better click play.


Guest Post: Write Your Professional Bio — Today!

Coach Kellie de Ruyter and children

Coach Kellie de Ruyter and her twins

I’m excited to report that my first guest blog post went live today, on Kellie deRuyter’s website. Kellie is a certified coach who teaches her powerful marketing system to new and seasoned coaches. She’s a dynamic and dedicated coach and an all-round delightful human. I’m honoured that she invited me to contribute to her blog.

Since Kellie’s focus is on helping coaches promote their services, I whipped up a post on that essential self-marketing tool, the professional bio. I clarify what a bio is (and isn’t, so you know what not to do). I also supply a handy 10-point cheat sheet and a fill-in-the-blanks template to guide you through writing your bio. The post is addressed to coaches, but the method works for anyone.

Have a peek, and if you’ve got any questions about writing your bio (or you’d like to hire me to write it for you), get in touch!