The Barefoot Starter Kit for Equitable Communicators

Happy Women’s History Month! Every year when March rolls around, we use words to remind ourselves of the fight for enfranchisement and equality. We are intentional in our celebration and recognition of the work being done to advance the rights of female identifying people across the world. But, how can we incorporate this concentrated process of relearning and reflection into our everyday lives? How can we harness the power of words to make real change all year round? 

How can we become better, more equitable, communicators? 

This question guides our work. One of Barefoot’s core values is “Words Matter.” As a team of communicators, it is our job to listen, learn and do the work necessary to ensure our words are inclusive and impactful. 

As part of this commitment, we want to share some of the things we’ve learned on our journey to becoming more equitable communicators. These tools help us tell stories and initiate conversations that lead to real change. This list is incomplete because this process is incomplete, but we’re eager to share some of what we’ve learned so far. 

Listen and listen some more 

It’s important to participate in community conversations about race and equity. As communicators, it is essential we master the art of listening. Joining crucial conversations increases knowledge, understanding and vocabulary on issues of equity. Over the past few months, our team has been participating in a series hosted by the Denver Metro Leadership Foundation called Virtual Voices. Monthly, Virtual Voices brings together activists, educators and organizers to lead conversations on our history with race. We look forward to diving deeper in this month’s conversation on March 18th. Learn more about these conversations and register for the series here.

You can also listen to our friend and communications mentor, Rebecca Arno from the Barton Institute for Community Action, interview U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. This conversation is loaded with inspiration, but we are particularly called to action when Joy speaks about the power of listening for those who are committed to social change. 

Check your sources 

The internet is full of resources to incorporate diverse perspectives into your work no matter the industry. In the media, an industry that is predominantly white, these resources are particularly important. It is our responsibility to research and understand the significance of the words we use. One tool we’ve found particularly useful is this diversity, equity and inclusion blueprint put together by the Communications Network. It highlights each sector of the communications industry and challenges us all to introspect. Check it out here. 

Speaking of resources…

Here are some tips for communicating with the hearing impaired/visually impaired community. 

Words Matter 

Words hold a lot of power. As communicators, we must be intentional about the words we use to describe the people, places and ideas we share. One of the ways we’ve been using our words for the better is by changing outdated language around issues of equity. For example, we are taking terms like “low-income,” ”needy” and “underserved” out of our vocabulary. If we introduce a community by highlighting the resources that they lack, we immediately put them at a disadvantage (thank you to the godfather of asset framing, Trabian Shorters, for that one).

There are so many ways to talk about a person or community without highlighting their deficits. To begin, you could highlight a community’s strengths, features, and historical assets. As opposed to saying “low-income,” you can specify an exact income range. A term we’ve recently been using to talk about communities that have been historically referred to as under-resourced is “untapped.” 

The sooner you commit to changing the way you talk about issues of equity, the stronger your new vocabulary around these topics will become. Which brings us to our next tip – keep a running dictionary of “Preferred Words” and “Words to Avoid” when learning about a new group, issue or trend. Updating one’s vocabulary takes time and effort. Writing new words down in a glossary makes this process much easier. Revisit your glossary whenever you’re writing about an important topic. And use it to check your speeches and articles before they are finalized.

One more resource – here’s a great LGBTQ glossary that we’ve incorported into our vocabulary. 

Listen, learn, grow 

Finally, we must stay curious. Communications best practices are constantly changing and it is our responsibility as professionals to learn and grow with them. It is imperative that communicators remain willing to accept their blindspots and lean into the things they don’t understand. The best thing you can do is stay open to feedback – from all people – and put aside defensiveness and pride when someone takes issue with your work. Especially for those of us who come from a majority perspective and white-centered lived existence. But it’s our job to commit to learning and action. This industry is for everyone so we have to make sure we’re doing what we can to make sure everyone has a spot at the table. 

If you have any resources or ideas that have helped you be a better communicator, share them with us in the comments.

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