Inclusive web design is more than just building a website that’s accessible for impaired individuals. Inclusivity means creating an environment (physical or digital) that’s welcoming of all people regardless of their: Age; Race; Ethnicity; Gender; Sexual orientation; Socioeconomic status; Body shape; Physical or mental impairment; And so on…

But let’s be honest: it’s not always easy to find photos that feel inclusive — whether they come from stock photo websites or your clients.

Today, I’m going to examine the state of diversity in stock photography and then I’m going to provide you with some alternative options so you don’t feel as stifled or limited by what you’ve traditionally worked with.

Is Diversity in Website Imagery Still an Issue?

There was a time when this was the kind of imagery we were accustomed to on the web:

But this video of Emilia Clarke (and Vanity Fair) poking fun at business stock photography was only just filmed in 2018. So, does that mean we still have a problem on our hands when it comes to the quality and diversity of stock photography?

Cheesiness aside, there does still appear to be a systemic problem with diversity when it comes to stock photography.

I went to the most popular stock photography sites and ran a search for “business”. These were some of the photos from the first page of results:

Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock Photos


iStock Photos


Pexels Photos


Pixabay Photos


Unsplash Photos

I think some of these sites are doing a much better job than they were in the past in terms of aggregating diverse-looking photos.

That said, there’s still a lot of white-washing here. And, not just that, but look at the focus of many of these seemingly diverse photos. Many of the speakers, bosses, handshakes, people looking over others’ shoulders… are white men.

Then, there’s the office spaces themselves that don’t quite look diverse either. I mean, you know this. I know this. Right now, I’m working from the kitchen of an Airbnb I’m renting for four months. What does your work environment look like? Does it look similar to those sleek high rises or swanky coffee shops often featured in stock photos?

Part of the problem may be that marketers are only just starting to make a concerted effort towards more diverse representation.

A Shutterstock survey from 2017 asked marketers in the US, UK, and Australia about inclusion of diverse visuals in their campaigns. Each market was asked different questions with the exception of the following:

Is it important to represent modern day society in marketing imagery?

These were the responses:

  • US: 41%
  • UK: 51%
  • Australia: 45%

On average, the responses in the survey averaged somewhere between 40% and 55% when asked about whether they were featuring more women, racially diverse models, non-traditional families, etc.

But is it enough to have 50% of marketers working towards a more diverse web?

You saw the photo samplings from above. I think a lot of people are really trying to be more inclusive as they build websites and marketing campaigns. But without good enough source material to start with, it could be a struggle. So, let me present you with some alternatives.

Option 1: Expand Your Stock Photo Repository

Unless you’re building a website for a SaaS or a newspaper, how likely is it you’ll be able to get away without using images? Not very likely.

If you rely on popular sites whose repositories still contain images from 2010, it’s time to shake things up. Here are some stock photo sites that have gone out of their way to build a collection of diverse imagery for the web.

When possible, I searched for “business” to give you a sense for how each of these sites compare to the ones I showed you before:

CreateHer Stock

CreateHER Stock Photos

Getty Images ShowUs Project (with Dove and Girlgaze)

GettyImages ShowUs

Jopwell Collection

Jopwell Photos


Nappy Photos


TONL Photos

Option 2: Try Some UGC

Visitors go to websites and hope to see something they can identify with. That doesn’t mean that every image you choose has to be 100% diverse. That would be impossible.

But what may be more feasible is to leverage user-generated content (UGC) to provide a more diverse and realistic set of photos for your website.

Of course, this assumes that the website you’re building is for a company that already exists and is out there selling their product or service. If that’s the case, that’s great.

Hop on social media — Instagram and Pinterest would be good places to start — and see if you can locate some high-quality photos for the site (with permission to use them, of course). If the company has an avid fan base, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find tagged photos. For example, a brand like Sephora could go to its tagged photos on Instagram and find a smattering of diverse faces and environments:

Sephora Instagram

Now, if you’re building a website for a brand new company, you can still use UGC to your advantage.

In that case, you’d turn to social media. However, look for photos that the competition (big or small) has been tagged in. What does their user base look like? What sort of environments do they appear in? Are there any insights or inspiration you can take away from these photos that would help you pick stock photos that well-represent the audience you’re targeting?

The customer base you’re targeting is already out there talking about the brands they like and showing off their happy purchases, events they’ve attended, etc. Why not use this publicly available information to find out more about who exactly the website should represent?


Of course, it’s not all on you to create an inclusive looking or sounding website. Your clients have to prioritize diversity internally — and that’s certainly not up to you to fix. But what you can do is focus on how the images you choose for your site play into the overall image of the brand.

Start by broadening your search for stock photography. If clients provide you with photos, have a discussion with them about diversity and provide tips on how to shake things up if their visuals come in lacking it. And, again, don’t be afraid to do some research on social media and see if UGC can be of some help!


American society isn’t just more diverse than it’s ever been – that diversity is now highly visible. More than ever, consumers are demanding marketing that pays attention to representation and shows the American public as it is: A huge and varied spectrum of races, bodies, genders and socioeconomic classes.

It’s understandable that some companies are struggling with these new standards – after all, things have changed rapidly in the past decade – but it’s time for anyone who’s been on the fence to start making an active attempt to create better representation in their marketing. Today, we’ll take a look at a few key questions that can help your team create respectful, inclusive and, ultimately, more effective marketing campaigns.

How is diversity defined?

First, let’s talk about what we mean by the term “diversity.” You might hear the word tossed around a lot, but what does it mean on a practical level? Diversity, as we’re going to be discussing it, is:

  • Creating spaces and media that are inclusive to people of color, people with disabilities, people outside the gender binary and more.
  • Acknowledging the existence of and representing these people in your marketing campaigns.
  • Following established best practices for using language about race, gender, disabilities, etc.
  • Avoiding harmful stereotypes and not using race, gender or disability as a punchline.

While these definitions will be helpful, it’s equally important to figure out what diversity means to your business specifically. It might mean fixing the representation in your ads when it doesn’t accurately reflect your brand’s demographics, or it might mean taking a stand on an issue that’s important to many people in your audience. For some businesses, it may even mean acknowledging harmful things that have been associated with your brand in the past and taking responsibility for them.

Why does diversity in digital marketing matter?

So, why is it so important that your digital marketing campaigns feature inclusive representation? Several different studies suggest that there are a variety of ways that diversity matters in marketing, including:

  • 80 percent of marketers agree that using diverse representation in ads helps a brand’s reputation.
  • Millennials and Generation Z consumers alike prefer media with diverse casts, view ads with diverse representation more favorably and are more comfortable with brands taking social stances.
  • Aiming products and campaigns at previously unserved markets can create great new revenue streams, as the story of Fenty Beauty’s expanded foundation range shows.
  • Diversity and representation are top drivers of engagement with content and Black millennial audiences have actively asked for more in surveys. 

Diversity in digital marketing also has a defensive side. A solid grounding in diversity principles is important for reducing costly gaffes and potential PR disasters such as Dolce & Gabbana’s ill-advised campaign featuring a Chinese woman attempting to eat various American foods with chopsticks. Saying the wrong thing can be much worse than saying nothing at all, and having a diverse staff who are empowered to candidly call out a misstep is the best way to prevent that.

How can you make your digital marketing more diverse?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand to wave and create “instant diversity.” Inclusion has to be grown organically from a marketing philosophy that rewards and celebrates it, and that usually requires some long-term work. Some of the diversity steps that marketers can begin taking today include:

  • If diversity is like growing a flower garden, you have to prepare the soil first, so the best way is to start with your team. Diversity-centered hiring practices are a subject unto themselves, and if you haven’t yet embraced them, that’s something to work on first. If you don’t have representation on your marketing staff, your representation in your campaigns will suffer. 
  • Businesses that already have a diverse team in play should remember that their minority team members aren’t there to rubber-stamp marketing materials as “certified unproblematic.” Make sure that they’re being asked to take the lead on plenty of projects, particularly ones that are aimed at a group they’re a member of. 
  • Robust market research can help identify demographics your brand may have been under-serving. Try to understand the specific concerns that motivate people from different cultures and how your marketing may have been missing a beat. Using social media listening services can be a great choice for discovering how a diverse audience relates to your brand on social channels.
  • Curate some customer-centered diversity by offering customers a place to upload content related to your brand, such as a YouTube channel. And if you work with social media influencers in your campaigns, you have another great opportunity to improve representation by making the effort to reach out to a demographically varied group of relevant influencers. 

Remember that these aren’t one-and-done tricks to score some easy points. It’s critical to approach diversity as a constant process rather than as an achievement. Keep a running list of improvements you’d like to make and don’t be afraid to add to it.

What mistakes can derail digital marketing diversity?

With issues as potentially sensitive as those surrounding diversity and representation, it’s no surprise that there are some important pitfalls to be aware of and avoid. Some key mistakes many brands make when they’re trying to create inclusion and diversity include:

  • Using people as token representatives to pander to a certain group.
  • Trying to wade into social issues that are out of your brand’s depth.
  • Getting defensive (rather than listening and learning) when your marketing is criticized for lack of diversity or sensitivity.
  • Using “victim/hero” language when discussing people with disabilities.
  • Not aligning your message and your practice (such as publicly supporting transgender rights when the brand’s physical spaces don’t offer gender-neutral restrooms).

Representational diversity can be a fine line to walk, and it takes practice and commitment. Diversity in marketing is best created from the ground up by a team that already has a culture of inclusion in place. Without a foundational grounding in what it means to be diverse, your efforts will often fall short or backfire. That means that there’s no shortcut – only the hard but extremely rewarding work of building up your business as an inclusive institution.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Visiture, an end-to-end e-commerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.