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As the importance of diversity and inclusion continues to grow within the workplace, the need for transparent, dynamic and authentic communication has never been greater. An inclusive workplace has become not only invaluable, but vital.
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) as a topic has connected with the minds of so many people. Not only has it become a talking point, but an entire social movement. That’s why we took part in Inclusive Group’s ‘In Conversation With’ series to discuss the role of branding and communication in representing a diverse and inclusive organisation.
A moment in time
We know inclusive workspaces are essential. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) conversation has pivoted to encompass the creation of an inclusive, fair and equitable workplace. Generation Z are now increasingly integrating into the workforce, with a mentality that views diversity as the norm. This has shed light upon the fact that we must do more; an Instagram blackout is simply not enough. Technological advances have enabled information to be at our fingertips and provided us all with personal platforms enabling us to speak up.
From a business perspective, D&I has been a topic of conversation for a while, but we believe the next five years will be about delivery. Diversity in the boardroom, and throughout a company, delivers for businesses.
It’s an issue stakeholders care about
A company’s stakeholders represent a key driving force for D&I, and they’re all approaching the challenge in a different way. Customers are demanding more from the brands, companies and services they align to, engage with and ultimately purchase from. Within organisations, the employees are the key stakeholders, and it is the responsibility of those higher up the chain to create an organisation where this is widely felt. Moreover, companies need to look at the ‘big picture’ and embrace D&I within hiring and recruiting.
This means directors are now under greater pressure to consider their wider societal impact and issues like D&I – and it’s even making its way into how they are determining bonuses sizes for company chiefs.
Investors, meanwhile, are voting with their money. Two-thirds of UK fund managers are reducing investments in companies that fail on D&I scores, according to the recent Edelman Trust Survey. Regulatory bodies, such as the FRC, are leading the call for transparency through legislation and reporting, requiring companies to demonstrate tangible action.
This all makes D&I a hot topic within communications – and for good reason. In a world of increased transparency, disclosure and visibility of data, we must not only say the right thing, but do the right thing too, particularly throughout our brand narrative and communications. To walk the walk and talk the talk. This is what a business’s stakeholders are now demanding, and conclusively, what’s considered important has shifted.
As a colleague of mine described it, inclusion is about ‘creating an equitable experience’. It’s critical brands acknowledge and reflect this. Whether it’s achieved through clearer reporting, or the consideration that pay rewards are as much about non-financial metrics as they are about financial ones. Inclusivity requires conscious and decisive action.
Walking the walk
We have seen a number of companies getting this right in recent times.
The BBC have a lot of clarity around their aims and how they are reaching them. For example, their new 50:20:12 workforce targets. The numbers represent specific diversity targets within the corporation: 50% women, at least 20% BAME and at least 12% disabled employees.
In 2015, an internal audit revealed a big (but not uncommon) gender pay gap disparity within Salesforce. Instead of quietly covering it up, CEO Marc Benioff took this as an opportunity to push the industry forward. Not only did they spend $3 million in salary adjustments, they also launched an equality website and now publicly publish their full diversity statistics. Although there’s further to go, the transparency demonstrated holds the company accountable for progress.
It can be a bit of a minefield, with many companies expressing a level of discomfort when reporting on D&I. There can be hesitancy to report due to the fear of being harshly scrutinised at best, or becoming the subject of a full-blown exposé at worst. However, this is too important to ignore. Good communication and branding transcends reporting, advertising, marketing campaigns and advertising, internal communications and recruitment.
Our golden rules for inclusive brand and communications
The first step is to acknowledge the state of play and to proactively implement change. But beyond that, what can we do to ensure our communications are connecting with our stakeholders?
Surface what you’re doing, share positive stories of your diverse workforce, ages and cultures, and empower your employees with their own voice around the D&I issues that matter to them. Focus storytelling on the real experience of the employees, ensuring the information you’re sharing is easily accessible, easy to interpret and uses the correct tone of voice.
Be authentic and relatable
The key to good storytelling is authenticity. You don’t want to be seen as committing ‘social washing’: making unsubstantiated or misleading claims in a bid to be seen as more inclusive than you truly are. If employees have the perception that your D&I strategy is simply a corporate tick box, it will never drive true cultural change and people will call it out.
It almost goes without saying, but use creativity to stand out; be memorable and campaignable. Focus on something that will resonate with the subject matter, as this is about ensuring you get the non-verbal comms right too. People should feel represented in the right way in all forms, whether that’s on your intranet, social media content or corporate video.
This is a key component in all communication efforts, but it’s even more important when talking about subjects such as D&I. Regardless of how you’re doing, failing to be transparent is not an option anymore. It’s all about communicating the good, the bad and the ugly.
Engage with external events and groups
Engage with external events: Pride, International Women’s Day, Black History Month to name a few. Significant days, such as religious festivals, should all be featured in the internal communications calendar. Sharing those causes and days that have significance for employees demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity.
Keep it dynamic
D&I is not a project, it’s an ongoing effort that has to involve everyone. D&I reporting and data will become a set piece and we can’t hide from it. Set ambitious targets and take your stakeholders with you on that journey.
We know inclusivity is important – we’ve made the case again, if it was needed. It’s how we respond to the challenge that ultimately matters; embrace this moment, make changes if they are needed and communicate with candor.
Steve Kemp & Sasha Scott spoke as part of Inclusive Group’s ‘In Conversation With’ series on Wednesday 3 March.