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It’s About Time We Got Serious About Great DE&I Communication

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 — August 31st, 2021

It’s About Time We Got Serious About Great DE&I Communication

At this year’s IABC World Conference, I was inspired by a vast array of speakers who came together under the umbrella of the theme: ‘It’s about time’.

In my session, I wanted to talk about it being time for effective and powerful communication related to diversity, equity, equality, and inclusion (DE&I).

I shared three ‘secret ingredients’ that I believe are the key factors in that, drawing from my experience over the past 3+ years building a narrative around DE&I and observing what communication professionals all over the world are doing really well. The three ingredients I covered are:

  1. Communicate now (and with some amount of urgency)
  2. Find new voices (that is, thinking differently about your sources)
  3. Focus on connection (so, celebrating difference, but not at the expense of what brings us together)

My point on the first ingredient is simple: you can’t wait until you’ve ‘made it’ before you start to communicate on DE&I.

In an era of radical transparency, stakeholders expect you not only to have articulated your position, but also that you are taking action around that.

They don’t expect you to have all the answers right away, but they expect that you’re addressing any issues you have. What I have come to learn is that with DE&I, it’s the journey that counts the most and it is not nearly as much about the destination as we might think.

Poppulo webinar – Elevating Other Voices: How to Promote Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Through Employee Storytelling

How many organizations are comfortable communicating before they have achieved the change they want to see? The really effective organizations have crafted a strong ongoing narrative around their DE&I work and haven’t been shy about admitting that they are not all the way there in their journey, but they HAVE been forthcoming with details on the action they’re taking to get there.

Successful organizations have also not let the issue fade away in favor of new emerging priorities; they’ve managed to keep it at the center of the agenda.

Regarding the second ingredient, which is finding new voices, it’s a really interesting one and still a work in progress for me! I have stepped into DE&I from a comms background, so whenever I get the chance to communicate, I’m ALL OVER IT!

But what’s massively impactful in my experience is when you provide a variety of voices around DE&I topics.

I always get amazing feedback at ERM when we do this. And I want to make it really clear that having leaders lead and being visible is hugely important, but top-down must not be the only way.

For me, some of the most authentic conversations this past year have been with members of the organization who don’t often get much prominence and we have done that in a few interesting ways.

We created space for three real-life story pieces to be featured during our global internal webinars for International Women’s Day; we gave visibility to some of our Employee Resource Group members during the celebrations around Pride, and we set up an internal podcast interview series that allowed me to cover topics with ERMers that would otherwise not have made it into our global conversation.

In addition, at our recent Global Inclusion Week webinars, we took an even simpler approach by randomly assigning people into breakouts and getting them to introduce themselves to each other.

We gave a few questions for people to answer (like ‘what would I say about me’, ‘what would others say about me’ and ‘what you wouldn’t know about me just by looking at me’).

And people found that to be so powerful – and it was such a simple concept when you think about it. So, I feel that these types of communication approaches really help to show that you’re elevating the conversation around DE&I and it creates that connection between the commitments you’re making and the communities inside and outside the organization.

And now on to the third and final secret ingredient: focusing on what brings you together. One of the central tenets of any inclusion strategy is about how you create belonging across groups of people who are inherently different to one another.

Really successful organizations do that by recognizing and celebrating being different, but with a view to that difference making the organization stronger.

However, there can be a very fine line here and people can end up remaining focused on their differences, which can be very dangerous for communication in the long-term.

If you don’t seek to bring different people together in some way through your communication, the gaps that are emerging in your organization can get bigger. So, it’s really important to make sure that you’re always seeking ways to bring people past their differences and identify what is bringing them together.

And actually, I think that an organization’s values are a really good way of creating connection where difference exists. When you get the communication around DE&I right, I think you can bring your values to life and show that you’re really living them out.

Corporate values are typically things like Respect, Accountability, Care and Concern, Collaboration, Feeling Empowered – and, funny thing (!), all these types of values can genuinely be activated in support of the DE&I strategy.

A great example of this is around the subject of LGBTQ+. There are many organizations that operate in parts of the world where the rights of LGBTQ+ people are restricted or indeed where people within the organization hold certain views about those groups.

One way of dealing with this is to talk about the company values being predominant and using those as a platform for bringing people together and for creating a safe space for all.

In other words, if the company’s values promote tolerance, respect, and acceptance, it is very difficult for individuals, no matter where they are located in the world, to not offer those things to the LGBTQ+ community.

So in short, having some urgency in your communication approach to DE&I and then including a variety of voices in ways that bring people together across their difference, will very definitely set you on the right course.


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