4 ways to bring DEI into your internal communications

Posted on: June 10, 2024By: Anita Chauhan

Communicating with thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of frontline workers can be challenging. Fractured communications across locations, culture and language barriers, and an overall lack of belonging can leave organizations struggling to connect with your frontline. But you can increase engagement across all your frontline employees by championing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. 

What diversity, equity and inclusion is (and why organizations should prioritize it) 

The role that diversity and inclusion plays in business success is undeniable, but not all organizations have a clear sense of what DEI is. To understand it better, remember that diversity is about variety in representation, equity is about fair treatment and access and inclusion is about engagement. Data suggests that teams focused on diversity and inclusion tend to deliver the highest levels of engagement and a strong sense of belonging. 

And that’s critical right now, because over time, and especially during the pandemic, a lack of prioritization of frontline workers has led to feelings of isolation and apathy. Despite efforts by employers, frontline employees struggle to feel valued, appreciated and motivated, with only 56% saying they feel “connected and engaged by their employers.” This highlights a diminished sense of trust, connection and communication between employees and employers. 

Accelerating diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace can proactively combat these feelings of disconnect. Weaving DE&I principles throughout your workplace can have resounding effects, including higher engagement and an increase in a sense of belonging. In other words: companies that create a culture of belonging where employees’ differences are celebrated will reap great results. 

In fact, one Deloitte study found that focusing on workplace belonging can lead to a 56% increase in overall employee job performance and can be attributed to a reduction in employee turnover risk by 50%. When it comes to profits, companies that report high levels of internal diversity tend to bring in 15 times more sales revenue than companies with lower levels of diversity. 

The advantages that come from infusing diversity and inclusion initiatives into your internal communications plan go beyond anything that numbers and metrics can see. The benefits of an inclusive workforce can be attributed to a myriad of things, including better team problem solving and an increase in a sense of belonging and overall workforce engagement

To encourage belonging, organizations should aim to create an environment where all employees from all different walks of life feel valued, respected and safe. They should approach inclusion and diversity in the workplace authentically and transparently, and avoid being performative. With that in mind, the role that internal communications plays in engaging your teams and frontline workers in diversity and inclusion initiatives is vital. Beyond effectively sharing important information, it helps push through important agendas and campaigns to underpin the company’s values and overall mission, which can extend and amplify D&I efforts. 

Not sure where to start? Here are four ways to use inclusion and diversity initiatives to shape your communications, to engage and celebrate your employees, no matter who (or where!) they are. 

1. Create D&I-based communication standards

An essential part of communication is just that: communicating. And successful communications rely on inclusive language. The language you use should be free from tones, words, or phrases that promote discriminatory, prejudiced or stereotyped perceptions of specific people or groups.  

For example, the term “guys” is a catchall phrase to refer to a group no matter their gender. Yet, for many, including non-binary, non-conforming, transgendered women and men, this term can reinforce a lack of belonging. Simply replacing this term with something like everyone or team can be more inclusive. 

As times change and our collective understanding of diversity in the workplace continues to evolve, so too does our language. It’s up to us to be thoughtful about how we express ourselves and work to avoid excluding others from being seen as part of a group. When in doubt, always lead with empathy.

Setting guidelines around language use and offering support can go a long way. Our words hold power, and in this case, they can have the power of making or breaking your relationships with or between employees. 

What you can do today: Be proactive. Set a standard for inclusive language that is neutral, intersectional and includes everyone in the organization, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age and more. Maintain consistency with a conscious style guide, which will help answer questions around spelling, phrasing and other considerations.

Make sure you include your employees! Engage your D&I team or create a committee to encourage better language usage and weed out problematic or outdated phrasing. Revisit quarterly and keep adjusting. 

2. Celebrate differences through storytelling 

One of the most effective ways to grow your inclusion efforts is to share positive stories of the diverse group of employees within the organization. This helps your workforce see that the company gives fair opportunities to people from various backgrounds. Find ways to celebrate your employees’ different opinions and ideas while giving credit where it’s due. Highlight their successes by attributing to an individual an idea they put forward or celebrate their wins with an expression of gratitude. Find ways to sponsor underrepresented individuals.

Sharing successes not only promotes a stronger company culture, but it lends itself to a company’s ability to story-tell. As storytelling expert Michael Kass explains, this can help a company “divest from exploitative ways of being and relationships with the communities and people we purport to serve while fostering more equitable, inclusive and human relationships.” 

For example, HSBC brought together their global workforce with a photo competition. This company-wide initiative was focused on showing off the unique perspectives of their employees—afterward, a compilation on YouTube helped HSBC’s workforce to see the magnitude of their submissions.

In another example, at Southeastern Grocers, a DEI workshop with district managers leveraged storytelling instead of slides. “The executive team got up and shared their own personal stories about what inclusion feels like—and a couple of leaders got super vulnerable. The energy in the room was game-changing and it set a new way of being at our company. We were finally at a place where it wasn’t about leaving your personal life at the door; it was completely the opposite,” says Elizabeth Thompson, founder and Chief Experience Officer for Intuitive Quest, LLC., and former EVP and Chief People Officer at SEG. 

“The takeaway was, take this back to your stores. Share your story. Have your store managers share their stories with their employees. Let people get to know you. Being vulnerable is scary but it’s powerful when you’re bringing your full, authentic self. It teaches people how to be empathetic.”

What you can do today: Organizations can begin by building strong relationships with a diverse group of employees. Be a listener and amplify those voices; make an effort to get an objective review on all communications. Speak with your company’s BIPOC and underrepresented groups. Listen to understand, not to defend. 

Make space in a company newsletter for features like “a day in the life of” highlighting unique team members and their journeys, aspirations or goals. Set up contests or events where employees can showcase their unique perspectives. 

3. Facilitate psychological safety 

Being a good listener is vital, but for larger organizational change, leaders must facilitate a space where everyone is encouraged to have vulnerable and honest conversations. This means fostering a sense of psychological safety, the process of providing safe spaces for employees to challenge and ask for help without fear of repercussion. Managers who actively create psychological safety workplaces are less likely to experience turnover on their teams. 

In organizations with high psychological safety, employees are empowered to give honest, valuable feedback. By speaking up to and sharing with those in positions of power, employees can help challenge the status quo, creating a cascade effect of identifying problems and finding opportunities for improvement. And so, part of encouraging psychological safety means being prepared to respond to and facilitate discussions around tougher conversations

By eschewing the concept of staying apolitical and encouraging dialogue around your employees’ differences, you can promote healthy conflict and curiosity. Through sharing constructively and safely, your employees can be sure that their differences are respected and valued. 

“There are no nice, neat stories. Every single one of us is filled with complexity and contradiction. When you help people figure out this is going to be a heart and head journey, it helps them recognize they too can find their way,” said Russell Wigginton, President of the National Civil Rights Museum, in a recent fireside chat with Axonify.

What you can do today: To empower employees to share more, consult your team during the decision-making process and ask them for their input. Don’t stop there; once the decision has been made, keep engaging your employees and including them in the conversation.

Also, be authentic and transparent. Encourage the management team to arrive to each conversation willing to share successes and failures. Provide opportunities for your employees to get to know who their leaders are. This could be in the form of monthly AMAs, dedicated office hours, or monthly leadership fireside chats—all of which can be done virtually to connect globally dispersed teams. 

4. Keep testing and improving

As you build out your roadmap to add more diversity and inclusion initiatives to your communications plans, you’ll want to find ways to keep improving your efforts and check in on the impacts of your programs. Here are some ways to check in on your diversity and inclusion initiatives:

  • Create feedback loops: This can be done via weekly polls, continuous feedback and pulse surveys, as well as specific outreach to underrepresented groups.
  • Ask for help: Work with the DEI department and ERGs to gain feedback on messaging to make sure you’re hitting the mark. 
  • Dive into data: There is a direct correlation between diversity in the workplace and critical HR metrics such as employee retention and engagement. To review the success of your diversity and inclusion initiatives, pair anecdotal feedback with these analytics. 

By prioritizing and championing diversity and inclusion initiatives, you set your entire team up for success. The benefits of making this investment will return tenfold in the form of employee engagement, retention and increased innovation. What more could you ask for? 

Anita Chauhan

Anita Chauhan is a freelance writer specializing in marketing, creating diverse and equitable workplaces, management, healthcare, AI and fintech.

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