Diversity and inclusion. Those two words are a trending topic in the world today, and for good reason. Without diversity of thought, your organization will be consistently outperformed by more innovative companies in your industry. Without true inclusion, all that diversity will go to waste, resulting in a loss of profit, lower engagement scores and a negative impact on the mental health of your employees. Fostering a diverse workforce and an inclusive organizational culture is undoubtedly important, but it can also feel daunting to broach as a communicator, leader or executive.
As the lead communicator on an award-winning diversity and inclusion campaign for a company that is spread across the Canadian province of Alberta with over 5,000 employees, I’ve had many communicators ask how they, too, can successfully engage their leaders on this topic. While no one campaign should be simply copied and pasted to another organization, there are a number of transferable themes that any communicator can apply to navigate this important and sometimes tricky topic.
Start with the data
In order to identify the gaps in diversity in your organization and then convey those gaps to employees at all levels, you need to lean on the numbers that outline the demographics of your employee base. If you don’t have those, find a way to collect them. There’s no sense in working off of assumptions, and you’ll need to do much less convincing if you let the numbers speak for themselves.
Executives may be reluctant to be transparent about less than desirable numbers for fear of causing a negative impact on engagement, but if you’re willing to openly communicate that you have room to improve and explain what your organization is doing to tackle the issues, it can be an engaging and unifying call to action. Additionally, leaning heavily on inclusion in your messaging demonstrates a positive intent that most people will be eager to rally behind.
Make feedback your new best friend
“Design-by-committee” is often a curse word in the world of communication and creative account management, but to succeed in this space you’ll need to embrace feedback, and lots of it. Remember, diversity of thought makes you stronger! The key is to set proper expectations as you solicit feedback from experts and executives. Ensure leaders understand that as the one with a complete line of sight on the strategy, you’ll be the one to decide which feedback fits and which doesn’t. Just be prepared to explain those choices later on.
Soliciting feedback from executives and subject matter experts is beneficial for several reasons. To start, each executive or expert will likely have at least one unique question or idea that will strengthen your strategy, helping you avoid major pitfalls while also creating more engaging content. Requesting feedback is also an opportune time to educate your top-tier leadership on where the organization stands while simultaneously breaking down their individual pre-conceived notions resulting in genuine support across the board—a must-have to be successful.
Gathering feedback should not be a box-ticking exercise. Be ready to intently listen, to learn from new and unexpected perspectives, and to iterate on your plan, tactics and execution. When you’re dealing with sensitive topics that require accurate and positive representation of different demographics, there will undoubtedly be nuances you wouldn’t have considered without belonging to that group. Don’t get too attached to your copy or designs.
Set your leaders up for success
In order for a diversity and inclusion campaign to be successful, you’ll need leaders at all levels to understand why it’s important and what’s expected of them to support the vision. This is a good place to determine an executive sponsor who understands the key messages and is passionate about the role diversity and inclusion needs to play within your organization. Use the most impactful channel at your organization to have them connect with all of your leaders. The executive sponsor needs to explain the aspirational “why” behind the objective, how it will service the business, how it will service their team, and how they’re expected to show up to support this initiative.
In addition to being clear with your leaders about expectations, you’ll need to provide strong resources for them to confidently communicate the key messages to their teams and have meaningful conversations. These resources should include visuals that help illustrate the facts and numbers, where you’re organization would like to improve, and what efforts are being made to be inclusive.
Prepare your leaders by providing them with a comprehensive list of FAQs that addresses the basics like, Why does diversity matter? What does it mean to be inclusive? Also be prepared to answer tougher questions like, Are we going to have hiring quotas? What if my belief system doesn’t permit me to support the LGBTQ community, and Why do we gather demographic data? Shouldn’t I be judged as an individual?
Lastly, be ready to roll up your sleeves and get into the weeds with your leaders. Complex conversations can bring up complex situations. This means there needs to be a diversity and inclusion champion that leaders can lean on to help them prep or even join in on these conversations with their teams if needed. If your leaders don’t feel safe and well supported, these conversations won’t happen in the areas of the organization that may need it the most.
If your campaign is made up entirely of corporate messaging, you’ll likely miss the mark. Diversity and inclusion starts and ends with the human experience, and that needs to resonate in your communications to generate genuine, engaging and approachable tactics.
Look for ways to include real stories that describe how diversity and inclusion has impacted the lives of your employees. These stories should be unscripted, unedited and honest. Look for both positive and negative examples that can be shared anonymously and span the various demographics where your organization has gaps. It’s easy for a leader or employee to write off organizational jargon, but it’s not so easy to write off stories that could be coming from the colleague sitting next to them or their direct report. These stories can be collected verbatim from surveys, through past conversations with HR or from interviews with people who are eager to share.
While you’re planting the seed to encourage sharing, discussion and empathy, find new ways for your employees to share their diversity and inclusion experiences on an ongoing basis. These channels could be an inbox, Google Form, or employee resource groups. These channels should be dedicated to the topic, intentional and work within the culture and logistical confines of your organization. Additionally, these channels should inform reports that will help keep your leaders grounded as you progress through your organization’s journey toward a more diverse and inclusive culture.
Each organization’s journey within the realm of diversity and inclusion will be unique, but if you lean on the facts and approach the topic with empathy, openness and true intent to help, you can make meaningful strides too.