What You Should Learn From the Failure of Dropbox’s ‘Diversity’ Tweet

leadership

Add another to those melancholy case histories entitled "when good intentions go bad." File-sharing tech company Dropbox posted a tweet Dec. 14 that had many scratching their heads, and many more poking fun:

The choice to use a picture without any dark-skinned people to pat oneself on the back for "diversity" is an odd and ill-informed one. What on earth is going on?

Dropbox clarified that people depicted in the picture include Iranian co-founder Arash Ferdowsi and Asian communications VP Lin-Hua Wu, as well as head of people Arden Hoffman, who is lesbian, and that the photo "was meant to highlight the increase of women in senior leadership roles."

So there is indeed diversity in gender, ethnicity and sexuality on display in the photo. What, then, is the big deal? Does Dropbox get a pass? Is this kerfuffle in fact the fault of people judging too hastily what they saw without examining the reality behind it?

No: The lesson that communications pros should remember is that visual storytelling is a language—a language that, though as rich and nuanced as any language can be, relies heavily on the first impression, the momentary glance. To be fluent in the language of visual storytelling, you must understand the implications of this. On the written page, to speak of diverse leadership that includes women, people of Middle Eastern and Asian descent and LGBT individuals is fine, but this clearly doesn't translate effectively to the medium of a photograph in which everyone has a similar skin tone.

An important point of reference here is a Huffington Post editor's tweet from May:

The intended message was to highlight women in leadership roles; the message many received was "we don't include people of color."

Follow Ian on Twitter: @ianwright0101