An Opportunity for More Equitable Communications

By Catherine Salgado— 


COVID-19 impacts all of us, but not equally. People who live at the margins—folks living in poverty, communities of color, undocumented immigrants—are much more likely to feel the economic and health impacts of the virus. This pandemic is highlighting how communication can deepen inequities. For example, calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” or “Kung flu” is not only wrong and racist—it puts people in danger of being attacked and stigmatized 


Thankfully, in the past few years, conversations around equity, diversity, and inclusion have become louder than ever with various sectors acknowledging the need to implement equitable practices. This is exemplified by the almost immediate response to COVID-based attacks on AsianAmericans and the support they have received from civil rights to racial justice groups 


Denouncing and documenting virus-related hate crimes is critical. It amplifies anti-racist messages, creates understanding, and grabs the attention of larger audiencesIn the case of COVID-19, racist outcries caught the attention of the World Health Organization (WHO) which has urged President Donald Trump to stop using anti-Asian terms and created guidelines to avoid social stigma around the virus. 


At Minerva, we have the privilege of working with organizations that prioritize equity in their programs and processes; they are always looking for ways to improve their communications. This openness to change makes them stronger as brandsmore relevant to the communities they serve, and more respected in their fields 


How can we be more equitable in our communications? For mission-driven organizations, this requires an understanding of the challenges they’re tackling and the people impacted by them. Lack of knowledge about communities of color and other under-served populations holds some organizations back when the narratives they create are out of touch with the experiences of those communities 


Despite having the best intentionsorganizations can create the wrong stories about the people they serve. We see this time and time again in what’s called “poverty porn”desperately sad fundraising appeals that portray people as perpetual and pathetic victims lacking agencyThese fundraising videos from the British consortium Disaster Emergency Committee show how organizations can miss the mark when talking about hunger, war, and povertypromoting misconceptions and erroneous ideas about people and the issues they face  


The best practices for equitable storytelling include defining a clear goalidentifying key audiences, and being intentional in the choice of messengers and message delivery. Writing should capture the storyteller’s voice and tone and respect requests for anonymity. All visual representations of people should be realistic and dignifiedwhich can be tricky when communicating about social injustices 


To ensure that as communicators, we portray people in a way that isn’t degrading—individually nor culturally—especially if we don’t share their lived experiencewe must consult with those within or connected to their communitiesOur privilege and implicit biases can make us overlook issues in communications that may jeopardize our efforts. To positively impact under-served communities, we may need to ask for help. 


We strongly suggest following these guidelines on inclusive language when talking about immigrants, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, people experiencing addiction, people experiencing homelessness, and other groups. We can’t make assumptions. We must ask people how they want to be identified regarding their race, gender, etc. 


We have great client examples of equitable storytelling including this one by Evergreen Treatment Services, which showcases a personal story of recovery from opioid addiction. The narrative is uplifting and encouraging; it shows the organization’s impact on the person who is the focus of the storyThe pictures that accompany the blog post show him in a positive light and good spiritsdepicting him with dignity 


We are proud of our clients positive influence and particularly excited about the work we are doing with the Port of Seattle to support the recent launch of their Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (OEDI)This office has been key to ensuring that the Port’s response to COVID-19 promotes equity in our community, including an emergency financial relief for airport tenants with rent and fee deferrals, in addition to barring evictions. 


COVID-19 has exposed inequities in practices and communications, but it has also inspired many people and organizations to contribute in different ways. For example, two of our clients, the Seattle Foundation and Sealaska, are financially supporting non-profits that work with the most vulnerable populations in the Seattle area and Southeast Alaska respectively—including native Americans, immigrants, and people experiencing homelessness.


This pandemic provides an opportunity to tell stories in an equitable manner—lifting up the people who rarely get the spotlight but are keeping this country and the world fed, healthy, and safe.

About The Author

Minerva Strategies

Minerva Strategies

The Minerva team has decades of experience working with nonprofits, foundations, and values-driven companies. Minerva also partners with experts—trusted designers, web developers, global communications professionals, and others—who share our excitement for creating positive social change. Through these partnerships, we can build a team that is tailored to your needs. Learn more about who we are or what we do.