How to ensure your set is not just “diverse”, but inclusive

Diversity and inclusion are two words we often hear together and in theory, go hand in hand. While brands are starting to understand the need for diversity a bit more, not just as a trend but as a fundamental necessity, some still aren’t getting it right when it comes to inclusivity. 

Author and activist, Verna Myers, explains it best saying “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance”. To put this in more literal terms, SevenSix founder and D&I advocate, Charlotte Williams, explains “If you’re not including people of colour and minority groups in certain conversations and the decision-making process, then your “diverse” talent is simply a tick boxing exercise and nothing more”

“Diversity without inclusion is in fact tokenism.”

“I’ve been told on an actual job that I’m there to represent diversity and I didn’t know how to take that. I sometimes feel I’m the “brown token” where clients use me once for public image then not again”  – Sachi Patel, Model 

So when it comes to making your photo/video shoot set “diverse” this means not only on one-off occasions in front of the camera but consistently and behind the scenes too. Ultimately the culture on set is as important as the end product. 

The various elements that make a set from photography to make up & hair, and styling to food, there is a lot to consider in order to be truly inclusive.

Photography

I spoke to Iyanka Cooray, photographer and founder of Framed Fantasies for his perspective. He commented,  “Being a brown man who grew up with a stutter (which is classed as a disability but is often overlooked as one), I have been in plenty of rooms where I have felt like there wasn’t enough done to make me feel included and safe.”

“But in any initial consultation with a client, if I feel like there are aspects of the set that lack the necessary arrangements to be fully diverse and inclusive, I won’t hesitate to mention it to them. In most cases, the organisers take on board the advice and are happy to learn/implement where necessary.” 

Where brands can ensure that inclusivity is at the forefront is with their openness to listen and take on constructive criticism from people on set. They might see something that you don’t and this shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing.

“Inclusivity on set for me means that every single person involved with the photoshoot is made to feel that they have an equal say and input regardless of their race, culture or disability and that all necessary arrangements have been made to portray everyone in their true and authentic self.” – Iyanka Cooray, Photographer 

Iyanka also shared with us a few techniques to consider when shooting people with darker skin/darker hair, to make sure the model is captured:

  1. Using a hair light to capture Darker hair. Dark hair absorbs a lot of light so adding a hair light adds separation and helps bring out detail and texture in the hair that could otherwise be lost if only working with a single light.
  2. Skin tones can come in warm and cool variation. We can tell a subject’s undertones by looking at their wrists and the colour of the veins. A person with cool undertones, their veins appear blue, whereas someone with warm undertones will appear green. It is recommended to pair warmer colours with subjects with warm undertones and cooler colours with cooler undertones.
  3.  Adjusting the highlights and shadows sliders – Boosting highlight and shadow sliders can help bring out detail in the features of a subject with darker skin that lighting alone may have not successfully revealed

Hair

When it comes to hair, being equipped to style different types from Type 1 to Type 4 is an extremely important part of inclusivity. It is scientifically proven that hair has a significant impact on our positive self-esteem, identity and confidence. Especially when it comes to black women, the reassurance of a hairstylist who knows how to work with all hair types plays a bigger role than you would think. This is why there should be someone on set that is trained in afro and curly hair. But also there are simple things to consider such as, having hair bands with enough elastic or without the metal in the middle, having a suitable brush or comb and products to be able to define curls or slick hair back if needed. 

“On all the sets I’ve ever been on in the last 5 years, I can honestly say I’ve only had my hair done by a hairstylist twice.” Says our founder, Charlotte Williams. “The last shoot I was on was pretty high profile but the hairstylist didn’t have any products that were suitable for my hair type so I had to run around the house we were shooting in looking for products in the bathrooms that I could work with. The hairstylist still took credit for my hair for that shoot but in fact, I did my hair, used styling tools from my bag and found products to use from elsewhere, this happens far too often.”

Models shouldn’t be expected to do their own hair or do not have the same time and effort put into their look. There should be a sense of trust between the hairstylist and model. When creating mood boards considering, can all types of hair be styled the way you want it should be an initial thought? There is a simple fix and it really is just research. There is so much information out there, from bloggers and YouTubers to online communities, read and watch as much as you can to be able to provide a service that is inclusive. 

Make-Up

For make-up, similar to hair, preparation beforehand for the models you have on set, can really set the tone for the shoot.

“I’ve had jobs where the makeup isn’t the right tones for my skin colour so I look ashy on camera because the foundation is too light or the colours being used aren’t the right colours for my skin tone or they use nude lipsticks that aren’t nude for brown people but only for white people.” – Sachi Patel, Model 

As the beauty industry itself is increasingly praised for embracing inclusivity, with a number of brands stocking 40+ foundation shades and curating complexion products specifically for darker shades, discovering what works and doesn’t work on different skin tones is so important for that trust between model and MUA.

Providing information to MUA’s on all models such as their foundation shade, their undertones etc. to be able to create looks that fit the model. Professional Makeup Artist, Michael Brooks, gives the advice that “If you’ve been made aware of the models you’re working on, prepare your kit accordingly. If you don’t have complexion products (foundation, concealer, powder, bronzer, blush) for all skin tones then you are not prepared.” On the brands’ side if you book a model who is of a darker skin tone you should ask the MUAs for portfolio work on similar skin tones to ensure they are prepared

“Inclusivity when it comes to makeup means not only being able to perform to the same technical level on all skin colours, but also being able to make everyone feel their best, or be able to deliver the same result to whoever is asking for it – whether that be someone’s special occasion, a model for an editorial shoot, a musician in a music video etc. Regardless of the desired result, an inclusive Makeup Artist is confident working with all gender identities, age groups and skin colours.” Michael Brooks, Make-Up Artist

Michael also shared with us his advice when it comes to inclusive make-up:

“My general advice would be: undertones are equally as important to understand in darker skin and that not all dark skin has one undertone. If you struggle with that, aim for balance instead of coverage. Use the undertone as a guide for the rest of their makeup, and lean on your knowledge of colour theory. Additionally, if the person you are working with is open to it – ask them for their makeup preferences. They will always know their own face better than you do, and people tend to look best when they feel their best.”

Styling

Stylist, Rianna Faye, on the subject of inclusivity when addressing styling commented that “ensuring the models are comfortable is very important and is just part of the job. Within styling, it’s important to think of everything from having enough size options and backups (belts, clips, pins etc) as well as other layers or tools to hide anything which may not look perfect or fit correctly. For example, they may not want certain body parts showing.”

Coordination between everyone on set will make everyone’s job on set that much easier. When the people behind the scenes on the set are from different backgrounds and ethnicities you get input from perspectives that may consider certain things that might not cross your mind. For example, when it comes to styling asking about lighting and angles to know what is best for the models to be dressed in, e.g dark clothing, matte/shiny clothes – will it reflect? Will a hoodie make a shadow/darken the face too much?  

“I have been styling for 2 years and only once have I been on a set where there are more than 3 black people (not including the models). I still to this day have never been on set with a female photographer.”- Rianna Faye, Stylist

Culture, religion and identity

When I am on set I like to know that I am on a set with people who understand my culture, religion and identity. 

Salwa Rahman, Creative 

When it comes to inclusivity there is more than meets the eye.  If being truly diverse and inclusive is something your brand aspires to be, it doesn’t stop with just what is on screen – When serving food on set is there a halal or kosher option? Is everybody made to feel valued and heard?

“I have been on sets I’ve seen as diverse and inclusive but they have always been grassroots productions, always been on shoots with my friends or people I know personally. From these experiences, I feel like an inclusive and diverse set is fluid in the way they communicate, everyone from model to crew is able to express their feelings comfortably.” – Salwa Rahman, Creative 

Word of mouth can be powerful, and a set that is a diverse and inclusive place to work on will have positive effects and be a chance to show that your aim of diversity and inclusivity is not only skin-deep.

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