The Role Communicators Need to Play to Advance Diversity & Inclusion Efforts

What’s the game plan, comms pros? Your organization has been working through the challenges COVID-19 has placed in front of you. And now you have the opportunity to lead your organization through diversity and inclusion efforts. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get the real work done. However, it’s important to understand that while the challenges of  COVID-19 were tackled with the support of leaders in the organization, diversity and inclusion must be led by employees. Statements and actions can feel hollow if they don’t represent the change that employees want to see. So, how do you bring employee voices to the board room (or the board Zoom)?

Tip 1: Communicate to employees first.

Show them their feelings and reactions matter and are your priority. When companies choose to make their statements around the Black Lives Matter movement and systemic racism in the media first, they are basically saying to their employees, “We care more about the public perception of our company than we do about aligning with the voices and values of our employees.” This is not a way to generate trust. And trust is essential in encouraging employees to bring their authentic voices to the workplace and this critical conversation.

Tip 2: Create an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for DEI or re-focus an existing one.

Many organizations have created ERGs where diversity is celebrated within the organization. This is the time to shift that focus and identify opportunities in the workplace and the community where your organization can contribute to ending systemic racism and inequality. Ensure this group includes employees of all races, cultures, sexual orientations, ages, jobs, and at least one executive sponsor. (Don’t forget your frontline workers or deskless employees.) And if you don’t have an executive who specializes in DEI, find an outside resource who can support this effort. One of the most important things we can do within our organizations is to acknowledge our shortcomings and correct them.

Tip 3: Be transparent and bring the data.

Many employees may not realize just how non-diverse their organization is and why that matters. Communicators can work with HR to gather data that goes beyond who makes up the workforce. Additionally, you should also look at your suppliers, business partners, and board members to ensure they’re accounted for in your DEI plan. And don’t forget to ask for employee feedback on their perception of diversity and inclusion in the business today. This data is critical in understanding what your employees value and what they identify as priority changes. If you want to build trust, acknowledging opportunities to be better and bringing examples and data to your communication is key.

Internal and employee communicators have a responsibility to bring the voices of all employees to the executive team and hold executives accountable to acknowledging them. As diversity advocate Vernã Myers said: 

Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.

When you bring your ERG together, make sure there is a clear, actionable plan for change. To abolish inequality in the workplace, these plans have to be embedded in the company culture. It’s also critical that you make sure communication reaches all employees directly and that they can easily share feedback with leadership. Too often, conversations about diversity and inclusion stay within the corporate office. So, it’s essential that you include your remote and frontline workers in this movement too.

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