28th Jun 2021
3 Min Read

Five ways to land D&I comms with a cynical audience

Russell Norton
Russell Norton
People & Change

Inclusion means everyone – and so when your audience is predominantly homogenous, how do you make sure diversity and inclusion (D&I) messages land for the majority, as well as the minority?

We joined Staffbase for a panel discussion on how to craft messages and stories that truly resonate with the audience in your organisation. The panellists shared perspectives about going beyond performative actions and bold statements, and not just being swayed by the trending topics in the media at the time.

An excellent example of an organisation doing this brilliantly is the Co-op. For many years, it’s been an employee-centric and people-centric brand, focused on doing genuine good in the community. While many large organisations add rainbow stripes to their logo in June to show support for the Pride movement, this year the Co-op chose not to.

The brand explained its decision on Twitter:

“Our Co-op supports LGBT+ communities 365 days a year, not just during #PrideMonth, #ItsWhatWeDo

They then went on to list the ways they support the LGBT+ community throughout the year, neatly underlining that actions speak louder than words.

And this theme emerged among the questions submitted to the panel during the session: how do I know where to start? How do I get people to buy in? And how do I communicate D&I to a predominantly white and male organisation?

"Do you have resources available for a company which is predominantly male, white and not interested in this sort of content?"

"How do you get people to buy in on the D&I initiative in a workplace and country that‘s mostly homogenous?"

"Any tips on how to begin with D&I work for a very white, male dominated industry?"

There are still a lot of organisations that are not particularly diverse. Engineering, manufacturing, utilities, agriculture, and construction are just some of the industries further behind on the journey towards a team that’s reflective of wider society.

For these teams, authenticity is particularly important. For diversity specialists or internal communicators in those organisations, there’s an imperative to communicate the topic and help create an environment in which the few minority individuals that do work there feel included.

However, with such a majority population, messages about D&I can face cynicism due to being irrelevant, too complicated or as a distraction from the task at hand.

So, if you’re starting from scratch with a relatively homogenous workforce, where do you begin?

Here are five of our suggestions:

1. Remember that everyone is diverse

If your audience is mostly male, mostly white and mostly straight – consider the D&I topics that will resonate best with them and use these to gain more buy-in for your D&I comms at first. Long-term health conditions, mental health, parenting, age, divorce, financial pressures, social mobility: these are topics that almost all people in the majority will experience. Including these topics helps avoid the perception that your diversity and inclusion comms are exclusively aimed at people in the minority, and therefore for ‘someone else, not me’.

2. Link the power of diversity and inclusion to your organisation

The classic business case says that more diversity brings more innovation. That’s fantastic if you’re Netflix or Dyson. But if you work in construction or engineering then it’s more likely your daily focus will be on health and safety, consistency and quality. Diversity and inclusion can benefit these: if everyone feels included and respected enough to speak up when they see a way of working that doesn’t seem safe, or a product that doesn’t quite meet the usual high standards, then everyone benefits. Creating that clear link between diversity and inclusion, and what your organisation exists to do, is a powerful way to gain buy-in from all employees.

3. Focus on allyship

While education and empathy are important aspects of diversity and inclusion messages, empowering people to act has the biggest impact. Giving employees the knowledge and the words to use when they see someone being excluded is powerful. It means that your people can look out for each other and challenge inappropriate behaviour. It puts the ownership for building an inclusive culture on to your own people. How can you be an ally? Find out here.

"A D&I professional once said they knew their work had been successful when colleagues of theirs were talking about D&I, and they weren’t even in the room."

4. Bring inspiration from the outside in

In a relatively homogenous workforce, your minority employees may not feel comfortable to speak up and share their story with everyone. That requires huge vulnerability and takes extreme courage. Inviting guest speakers to talk to your employees or write a piece for your internal platforms is a good alternative to start the conversation and opens the door for others to share their story.

5. Be clear about what’s essential

Setting clear expectations to your people is a must, especially when it comes to protecting people who benefit from less privilege than others. Are you an organisation that’s on a journey towards a more inclusive culture, or do you have a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination of any kind? Whatever you claim has to be backed up by your actions – what’s tolerated will proliferate so any policy must be policed stringently. By communicating what is and isn’t acceptable in your organisation, and what your stance towards discrimination is, you set clear expectations and pave the way for more diverse people to join your teams.

It’s so important to remember that all best-practice principles of diversity and inclusion and employee engagement still apply, even if you don’t have a very diverse audience: leadership visibility, two-way dialogue, honesty, using the data you have available, storytelling. These will help.

But also, just listen. Your employees will tell you what it’s really like to work at your organisation and what’s important to them. That insight helps you craft messages and activities that address their specific needs and fit into their working routines. In doing so, diversity and inclusion isn’t ‘something else that I need to do on top of my day job’, it’s ‘just part of what we do round here’.

Explore how to amplify D&I in your organisation.

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