8th Jul 2020
3 Min Read

Diversity & Inclusion comms. 5 tips for planning and crafting authentic messages

Russ Norton
Russ Norton
Diversity & Inclusion

Over the last 6 years I’ve centred my personal learning and development around the topic of diversity and inclusion. And while I'm by no means an 'expert', I am super passionate about the topic.

What really interests me is the intersection where internal communications best practice is applied to D&I and what can happen in large organisations as a result.

For me, the exciting opportunity is that everyone can benefit. Often, D&I is centred purely on the minority groups in large organisations – and absolutely, it should serve them – but the topic is relevant to everyone. When we get inclusion right, and foster that sense of belonging, everyone can benefit.

In the 5 quick videos below, I share some of the tools, tips and resources that I’ve used with clients over the last few years to communicate diversity and inclusion in an authentic way.

1. Internal comms and D&I - Where's the overlap?

So, what is the role of internal comms when it comes to D&I and how far should that overlap go? Well, the first question is ‘what’s the role of internal comms?’

In some organisations they’re messengers, in some they are listeners and in others they’re coaches. But pretty much all IC functions exist to drive some kind of value in their organisation – whether that’s performance, motivation, a certain behaviour or mindset or pulling focus to a particular campaign or issue.

With D&I, that value chain is a little woollier, but we know from employee feedback, Glassdoor scores and sentiments that D&I is incredibly important to people and that inclusive cultures are higher performing.

I believe that internal comms can play the important role of an ally.

IC teams own the channels, have better access to leaders and set the tone and the topics that the organisation addresses. Because of this, IC teams make great allies for minority groups in an organisation, offering a platform to voices that aren’t heard as often.

On their own, internal comms can't influence change. That’s too big. But they can be positive agitators. They can nudge and push and say ‘hey, we should be listening to these people. Here are some voices we’ve not heard in a while – let’s pay them some attention, see what happens when we listen and what changes can be made in our wider organisation.’

For me, when we agitate and facilitate an environment in which positive change can happen, then we as an industry are doing something that we can be really proud of.

2. Making it fair - What should your internal comms D&I messaging include?

In the world of internal comms, and the world of diversity and inclusion, fairness is really important. So, how do you decide what you are going to talk about, bearing in mind you probably have limited time, resources and brain-space?

I often refer to a model developed by Gardenswartz and Rowe in the early 2000s which describes different dimensions of characteristics.

Internal dimensions

These are hard-wired to you and you don’t have much influence over what you can conceal about them.

They include your age, race, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities and mental health. I would always recommend seeking to cover at least these 6 dimensions in the course of a year. That’s going to tick off some of the hot topic issues that are on the agenda right now.

External dimensions

These are the ones over which you have a bit more choice to reveal or conceal and include your education, health and faith.

We’ve done some work recently to share stories about faith in the workplace and that can be a bit of a taboo topic. But it was nice for people to be able to talk openly about their beliefs and when the teachings of their faith have enabled them to tackle a particular topic or make a great connection with a client or a customer.

Organisational dimensions

These are where you sit in an organisation – your role, location, division or department.

When you think about it, these characteristics often aren’t included in typical diversity and inclusion conversations, but they can have a huge impact on how people feel at work.

We often hear examples of ‘us vs them’. Maybe it’s front-line vs head office or furloughed vs non-furloughed. Those silos that appear within your audience can have vast ramifications on how people feel, and therefore how they’re performing. So, it’s important to think about when planning out your content.

Balancing your messages

I find this model a useful hygiene test for the communications you’re putting out over the course of a year. And it helps you tally up the topics you’re perhaps talking about too much and which communities you might be unintentionally excluding by not featuring them across your channels and content.

Some people might use this model to say, ‘we’ve already talked about that, we’re not going to address it again.’ For example, we might have already addressed Black History Month last year, so we’re not going to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement right now. I’d say that’s absolute nonsense. Sometimes topics are so, so important, and the things that are happening out there in the world around us and on social media means that you have to respond.

By the same token, it’s a really useful tool to help you manage your stakeholders. If you’ve got a stakeholder group pushing you to share their bake sale story, it gives you the ability to say, ‘if I feature that story on my channels every single time it’s going to feel really overloaded and really unfair. How about I dedicate that month to you and your stories and I’ll work with you to craft something really meaningful but right now I’m focussing my attention over on this topic.’ And ultimately, that’s fair.

3. Making it timely - How do you map out what D&I messages to talk about?

We're often asked, ‘how do I plan out what I’m going to talk about, and when, in the space of diversity and inclusion?’

It’s a big topic with many different angles you can take and it’s important to be planful. Some organisations have a full-scale D&I team, running their own activity and you as a team have to find a way to help amplify it. In other organisations, there may only be one or two of you and it’s just one of many priorities and conflicting needs. Here are some tips to help you stay planful.

Stay close to that planned calendar of events.

Pride month, International Women’s Day, Black History Month – these give you a really good reason to communicate.

There are fantastic resources out there. Plymouth University has the most amazing diversity calendar, laying out all of the religious celebrations, international dates relating to diversity.

Another great resource is DaysOfTheYear.com which maps out some slightly more abstract events. You can find some real nuggets that inspire you to address topics you might not normally think about.

What you talk about, and when, is entirely up to you. It’s absolutely ok to set yourself up a spreadsheet, map out the months of the year, and define what you’re going to talk about and when. Ultimately, it’s your team, your business and you know your time and resource better

Your plan doesn’t have to be rigid

If International Women’s Day falls in March, it’s ok to talk about gender in April. The boundaries can absolutely blur and that planning mechanism just helps you narrow your focus and speak to the right people at the right time so you’re not juggling too many balls in the air at once.

Forward planning is key

Telling stories about diversity can be quite sensitive and you might be dealing with some fairly tricky topics. The stakeholders you’re going to be working with need time to craft that message and share that story in a way that’s impactful but isn’t putting them in an awkward position.

Your calendar is going to help you tackle topics at the right time in your organisation. But it’s also going to help you manage your workload and your stakeholders.

4. Making it relevant - how do you appeal to majority and minority groups?

With D&I comms, as with all internal comms, relevance is incredibly important.

Unfortunately, one accusation D&I comms recieve can be: ‘this isn’t relevant – I don’t understand why I’m receiving this.’

You and I both know why diversity and inclusion messaging is so important. But sometimes you really have to state the case for it. And now, especially as we head into a recession and budgets get squeezed, that pressure is going to be ramped up.

So how can you make sure that the comms you’re producing are as relevant and targeted as possible?

Start with your data

Your HR team should be able to tell you the demographic breakdown of your audience and you can compare that with benchmark average figures to see how you’re tracking.

Is your audience made up in the same way as the customers you serve? If it isn’t, why isn’t it? Perhaps that’s a great place to ask yourself, and your employees, their opinion on why your organisation looks so different to the people around you.

The bottom line

There are dozens of studies that show the commercial benefit of a more diverse team.

The latest research from McKinsey reveals that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity within executive teams are 25% more likely to experience above average profitability than companies that fall into the lowest quartile.

In the case of ethnic and cultural diversity it’s the same. Companies in the top quartile outperform those in the bottom quartile by 36% profitability.

Think about your own organisation. That bottom-line performance could be driven by a number of reasons, A lot of people talk about D&I equating to innovation – that diversity of thought brings better ideas and more variety of feedback. But there are different arguments and different ways to craft that story.

For example, one gas distribution network I work with equates diversity to safety. They ask, ‘does everyone in our teams feel safe enough to speak up?’ when they see a pipeline in the ground and aren’t certain if it’s safe to dig or not. They want everyone in that organisation to feel psychologically safe enough to speak up in order to protect everyone. That’s a really compelling argument for them and its relevant.

People relate to people like them

Role models are tremendously important. It’s so powerful for young people with minority characteristics, – young Black kids, Asian kids, gay kids – to see visible role models at a senior level. It elevates their aspirations and helps them think, ‘I can achieve that.’

But in the absence of those visible role models, it’s really important to find the topics that start the conversation. If your senior team is predominantly middle-aged white men, perhaps you might want to start by talking about topics that are most relevant to them, things like mental health, balancing family and career, or things like financial wellbeing.

That method of opening up the conversation with topics that are relevant to that audience can then lay the foundations for you to address broader topics later down the line. The one big learning here is think about your audience. The better you understand them, the more you can craft and tailor your messages to suit them.

5. Making it authentic - How do you make sure your D&I comms aren't a token effort?

Authenticity is really important. Sometimes, when thinking about race or LGBT topics clients might say, ‘I don’t think the organisation is ready to talk about this topic’. or 'it wouldn’t feel authentic for us to talk about it just now'.

That’s a real challenge because it’s so important to address the issues on the minds of your people. But, by the same token, your people know what the employee experience is like. If you say something that isn’t reflective of their day-to-day working lives, they’ll see straight through it.

To tackle this issue, I use the really simple ‘know, feel, do’ mechanism.

What do we want people to know?

More often than not, what you want people to know is what you do, as an organisation, in the space of diversity and inclusion. That might be the programs, policies or employee resource groups that you have to support people.

It’s easier to communicate what you’ve done, than what you intend to do. Intention is wonderful but ultimately, people want to know are you walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

What do we want people to feel?

I would always recommend to aim for empathy. Diversity and inclusion is a chance for people to share stories about their real, raw authentic experiences and that gives you an opportunity to talk about emptions that don’t often get talked about in large organisations. Things like frustration, anger, sadness, shame. People being brave enough to share their stories, no matter how severe or heavy it might feel, might resonate with someone else and could start that conversation.

What do we want people to do as a result of reading your message?

Diversity doesn’t really have a ‘do’. We are all diverse, unique and individual so, it doesn’t really have an action tied to it.

But inclusivity does. Inclusion is a choice; it is an active behaviour that we chose to do. Your diversity messaging should always aim to move people’s understanding onwards. It should aim to build on that empathy to give people the power and the confidence to act more inclusively.

You might, for example, choose to link to more resources or provide top tips for inclusive meetings. Either way, every single message should always have a call to action that helps drive action.

I always say the worst thing you can do is say nothing at all. People will always ask ‘why aren’t addressing this issue’, We musn't be afraid to tackle these topics.

Want to join the conversation?

Come and talk to us and our guest panel on Friday 24 July as we asnswer questions on communicating D&I authentically.

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