Smiling office workers in a bright office space. Beautiful, young, able-bodied, and often white people wearing suits. There are plenty of work life themed stock photos, which are also used by media in their imagery. Often these photos from different fields and professions portray women and men stereotypically. The problem with model stock photos is that they do not look real, and they do not necessarily represent the reality.

Deciding on the visual representation is a crucial part of a project’s communication. We searched for a suitable project photo for our Manifold More project. The photo should embody our project’s objective: promote diversity in working life.

Flawless photos from perfect camera angles resembled advertising photos much more than our everyday life at a research institute or at other work communities. What we wanted to communicate with the visual representation was that diversity in working life is real.

Nearly every other working-age woman who has moved to Finland is highly educated

Media repeats the story of stay-at-home uneducated “immigrant woman”. In addition, women with foreign background are interviewed as experts by experience on topics of education and work – not as specialists or experts. In reality, 43% of working-age women who have moved to Finland are highly educated. The employers’ attitudes, and specifically biases, form a significant barrier to employment.

Stereotypes limit and misguide both the employees’ and employers’ decisions. According to the comprehensive review of integration 2019 (Kotoutumisen kokonaiskatsaus) the employment of women increases only a little when they have higher education. Thus, many women are overeducated in their current positions. Our project aims to improve the employment and utilize the expertise of women who have moved to Finland.

Expertise is more diverse than the imagery portrays

It is an advantage for Finnish working life to utilize the existing skills and expertise in our country. We want to expand the image of expertise, so that the women who have moved to Finland would have better chances to get jobs equivalent to their education and that they too would be represented as experts in the media. Representation in photos and stories matters.

The solution to our problem regarding our project’s photo was right next to us: for our Manifold More project we took photographs of three experts from THL and Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. Researcher Idil Hussein and a statistician Ulrike Baum from THL, and a leading specialist from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health represent the diversity of expertise in our project’s photographs.

Choosing the right photos can dismantle harmful norms

Photographing actual working life situations is one way to improve gender-sensitive communications. THL’s Gender matters? project collaborated with Manifold More project. It offered support to improve gender-sensitive communications and provided training for journalists. Gender-sensitive visual communication dismantles harmful norms.

In the photographs, consciously pay attention that you are representing individuals of different genders, ages, and body types. Be critical about stereotypical presentation of women and men. For example, visual and verbal representations of women who have moved to Finland are often sexist and racist. The photos can dismantle roles and positions of power: pay attention to whom the photo is focused on, who is active, and who is at the forefront of the photograph. With conscious choices the photos can challenge harmful norms instead of repeating them.

Manifold More project (2019-2022) is funded by the European Social Fund (ESF). Gender matters? project (2019-2021) was funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (REC).

Read more:

Manifold More project (thl.fi)

Gender matters? project (thl.fi)

Kotoutumisen kokonaiskatsaus, TEM (Summary in English) (valtioneuvosto.fi)

This blog post has been published previously in Finnish April, 2nd in 2020: Kenen tarinaa valitsemasi kuva kertoo?

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