Diversity and Inclusion: A Case for Communication

Diversity and inclusion is quite a hot topic in the mainstream media. Coverage of stories such as the #OscarSoWhite controversy and race-related tumult on college campuses continue to take center stage on the nightly news. Beyond the sound bites, discussions of solutions are more akin to business strategies. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pledged to change their governing structure and colleges are sponsoring campus organizations similar to employee resource groups and training programs that teach students and faculty valuable cross-cultural communication skills.

The popular press is talking about what major corporations have known for years. A growing number of organizations understand the business case for a diverse workforce and inclusive culture and have launched initiatives to cultivate culturally effective workplaces in a number of ways. When global corporations began focusing on diversity and inclusion in the 1990s, many did so because it was the right thing to do. With experience, they realized the business benefits of hiring, retaining, and advancing a more diverse workforce. Studies show diversity and inclusion increases profits, improves business performance, enhances employee engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty, and reduces costly turnover.

Why does communicating about diversity and inclusion matter?

The business case for diversity and inclusion and how it impacts the bottom line must be explained and understood throughout an organization. Gender and ethnically diverse organizations outperform those that are more homogenous. Diversity of thought results in better solutions and innovation, which leads to better products and services.

Communications plays an important role in achieving a key diversity and inclusion goal: attracting and retaining talent. Marketplace campaigns and conference sponsorships position the organization as an employer of choice enabling future recruits to gain a better understanding of the organization’s culture, an important job search criteria for millennials.

Internal communications introduces employees to a variety of resources and programs designed to benefit their careers. Involvement in diversity and inclusion activities, such as employee resource groups, can enrich their workplace experience and enable them to grow in ways they hadn’t considered. Talent development programs contribute to advancing women and minorities into leadership positions. Consistent messaging to educate and inspire employees can contribute to increased employee engagement and reduced turnover.

Diversity and inclusion is a key marketplace differentiator. Communications will expand the organization’s brand through thought leadership including speaking engagements, white papers, and social media that drives the conversation.

Here are a few ideas that will showcase commitment to diversity and inclusion:

Internal channels, such as the intranet, are critical tools. Find ways to embed diversity and inclusion into existing content, e.g. benefits-related human resources pages, geography-specific or business unit-specific home pages, and on boarding information.

Create a specific section on the intranet where employees can access the full breadth of diversity and inclusion resources, hear leaders’ views on what diversity means to them and why it is important to the organization, and most importantly, how employees can get involved:

  • Post information about leadership development programs including the nomination process
  • List the professional associations and correlating conferences the organization sponsors that employees can leverage for networking and professional development opportunities
  • Provide Employee Resource Group descriptions, events, and contact information to facilitate connections beyond day to day work teams
  • Include a Resources page containing diversity and inclusion publications produced by your organizations and others, websites that provide demographics data and research, as well as Diversity & Inclusion Annual Reports. (If the organization has not published one yet, an Annual Report is a great way to exhibit the organization’s strategy and accomplishments.)
  • And, of course, share the good news of diversity media hits and awards on both the organization-wide intranet as well as on the Diversity & Inclusion pages.

Technology can enable innovative ways to reach employees. For example, short videos of employees and executives from all levels, all areas of the organization, and from a mix of backgrounds, sharing career successes demonstrate the inclusive culture and enable employees to see others who look like them within the organization. Collaboration tools enable two-way communication across the organization engaging employees in the conversation rather than only pushing information from the top.

Social media is a prime tool for sharing the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts and successes. Many organizations have multiple accounts including a main account to reach clients and customers and one geared towards employees or potential employees, with inclusion information typically posted on the latter. To expand the reach of this content to a broader audience, consider a cross promotion campaign through both accounts. Use hash tags wisely: common hash tags, such as #gender or #LGBT, will enable your organization to join an ongoing conversation, while original hash tags associated with a specific campaign start a conversation and show leadership on the topic.

The external website is often an under-utilized tool. Typically, diversity and inclusion efforts are hidden on the careers page. Given the website is the first interaction with future employees, clients and customers, it is a key sharing channel to highlight diversity and inclusion as part of the organization’s overall brand.

A multi-channel communications plan is a vital component of the diversity and inclusion strategy. It offers a variety of opportunities for an organization to send positive and informative signals to employees, future recruits, clients/customers, and shareholders. Organizations that have truly bought into the business case for diversity and inclusion and are doing the work to sustain a comprehensive initiative deserve an integrated communications plan that reflects those efforts and contributes to realizing a larger share of the benefits.