28th Jul 2020
3 Min Read

Communicating D&I. A deeper dive into your questions

Russell Norton
Russell Norton
People & Change

Curious internal comms and HR pros sent a host of questions to our panel at our recent webinar on communicating D&I authentically. We heard loud and clear that support is needed to elevate the topic of diversity and inclusion in communications, but a passionate panel and a limited window meant we couldn’t answer everything live.

With so many interesting, complex and relatable situations shared, these questions deserve answering here.

"I‘m concerned that the people I’m featuring in our internal communications might think they‘re being used as ‘tokens’. Should I talk to them about it?"

There’s a big argument in favour of diverse representation – because it raises aspirations for others and busts myths about how inclusive or otherwise your industry is. The safest way to broach this sensitive topic is to talk to the people involved and make sure they’re comfortable.

  • Address it with your contributors – share the list of people also being featured so they can see for themselves how they fit in
  • Describe the criteria you based their selection on – i.e. that it’s first and foremost about people with a strong personality who have a great story to tell, and that then you narrowed down choices to make sure there was a representative and diverse mix of people featured
  • Be honest about your worries about tokenism and ask them for recommendations of other people you could think of approaching in the future.
"If we don’t know our audience very well, how do you start somewhere without offending people? Any ideas?"

Taking the first step is nerve-wracking and it does come with risk. There will always be people who are ignorant and bigoted OR overly sensitive and looking for something to complain about. We can’t let those people put us off, though, otherwise we’d never do anything!

If I were starting from scratch, I’d approach this in two ways:

  • First, I’d respond to events going on around us in a relatively neutral, educational way, sharing resources and information. You can expand this very easily to topics like International Women’s Day, Pride and Black History Month – in the spirit of ‘by the way this is going on, if you’re interested, here are some things you might like’.
  • Second, I’d try to kick-start a series of stories from real employees – sharing what their biggest barrier in life has been and what that’s taught them
    • It could be a disability, a challenging upbringing, balancing work and family, ageing, sexual orientation, faith – what’s important is that you make it a regular feature and aim to be representative of your employees.

In starting ‘gently’ like this, you can gauge the reaction of your audience and start gathering feedback. You might also start getting volunteers to come forward and share their stories.

Ultimately, communicating D&I is a positive thing. Be confident with it and get comfortable with what is and isn’t your job – you can influence sentiment, but you can’t control it.

"After months of L&D storytelling in an organisation lacking diversity, there’s now huge appetite for action to increase diversity. Where should we start?"

In internal comms, we’re ultimately at the mercy of our leaders in terms of how much the organisation will invest in D&I and really change some things for the better. But some actions are within our control.

Whatever you do, it has to be authentic. I’d suggest a combination of the following:

  • Start with listening: curate the sentiment among your employees, especially those from minority backgrounds. What’s driving that appetite for increased diversity? And what does it feel like to be an employee in your business today?
  • Look outside: your industry is going through the same challenges you are, and most leaders are naturally ego-driven. Seeing as they don’t like to be out-performed by the competition –another helpful step is to pull together a mood-board of what other similar organisations are doing.
  • Agitate change at a senior level: who’s responsibility is it to drive change, and, if it’s not down to one person, how can a change-making team be established?
  • Continue storytelling: there’s no value in communicating intent. There’s only value in actual action that the organisation is taking.
"How can internal communicators garner support from other areas of the business to enable them to cater for everyone? Such as providing automated subtitles on video platforms for deaf people?"

There’s a few options you could take:

  • Establish a set of comms principles: a set of rules or values that all your comms will adhere to. Use this as a checklist to work through with stakeholders - this helps you upskill those around you and drive consistency across the board.
  • Check the data: what can your HR team tell you about people with diverse characteristics in your business? A lot of people will say ‘well if we don’t have any deaf people we don’t need to offer subtitles’ – that’s unhelpful and inaccurate for a lot of reasons, but being able to prove that you do have colleagues that need it is very helpful to your case
  • Doing it because there are many benefits: Here are some very persuasive stats.
"On the subject of language, how can we help people get to grips with complicated concepts. We’re worried that terminology is putting people off"

One thing that really struck me in the weeks after George Floyd’s killing was the proactive dismantling of common phrases – like ‘I don’t see colour’ and ‘All Lives Matter’ and ‘I’m white but I grew up poor, so I’m not privileged’. There were creative and succinct ready-written responses all over Instagram and LinkedIn that showed how these weren’t fair to say.

That presents an opportunity for you as a communicator to share them in the spirit of ‘these might be helpful to you’, or even encourage employees to share the ones they found useful themselves. What’s best about this is that you’re handing over the mic and letting people articulate it themselves, rather than doing it for them.

TopIC In Post - Communicating D&I. A deeper dive into your questions
Credit: I love this series by @courtneyahndesign
"What is intersectionality?"

People are like onions – they have many layers. Different aspects will have altered their life experiences and therefore who they are today. Some aspects benefit us, while others create disadvantage. People with minority characteristics tend to experience more disadvantage. When two or more of these characteristics combine, or ‘intersect’, an individual is likely to experience even more disadvantage.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the phrase, explains with a story. She said how the narrative about police violence in the US is very well known. Stories regularly appear in the media about brutality against Black men and White women. However, stories about violence against Black women were rarely seen. Their intersecting characteristics – their gender and their race – meant that they did not fall into a comfortable narrative that viewers were familiar with, so their stories simply weren’t told.

When we talk about intersectionality, we’re usually referring to the fact that people are more than their obvious minority characteristics, and that some characteristics are more commonly talked about than others. Mental health is an example of a topic that, in recent years, has featured much more predominantly in large organisations – thanks to the efforts of campaigners and role models who shared their own stories and battled against stigmas.

If you’re addressing D&I with authenticity, you’ll be featuring people talking about all aspects of themselves and how those intersecting characteristics have resulted in who they are today.

We could talk about this topic so much more – and we do. It really is a huge priority for so many of our clients. Our tailored D&I narrative generating session will help set your communications off in the right direction. Find out more here

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