How to amplify DE&I with internal comms

A diverse culture of inclusion and belonging requires everyone to be committed and engaged in making work equitable for all. Here’s how internal comms can go beyond lip service and become a true champion for DE&I in the workplace.

Woman amplifying voice

How internal comms can become diversity, equity, and inclusion champions

With every year that passes, DE&I becomes more of a business priority. After much time spent talking the talk, businesses are under pressure to start walking the walk.

Glassdoor report that 67% of job seekers consider diversity an important factor when seeking opportunities. More than 50% of current employees want their employer to do more to increase diversity. The time for action and progress is now.

Internal comms is uniquely placed to shape an enterprise’s approach to DE&I and support this progress. Where enterprise communication was once defined by executive messaging, today, communicators have grown into custodians of the employee experience. As representatives of the employee voice, internal comms have the opportunity to become fundamental change agents for DEI.

5 ways internal comms can advance DE&I

Internal communicators, whether they feel equipped to or not, must take a front and center role in championing DE&I in the workplace. Unfortunately, it seems not enough of us feel ready to do so:

"1 in 3 internal communicators do not feel knowledgeable enough about DE&I to comfortably communicate about it."

Gallagher - State of the Sector 2022

While this figure is by no means ideal, it does offer a clear instruction to improve our support of DE&I: educate communicators so that they can educate employees. So, here’s five ways that internal communicators can become a key part of that positive change and champion DE&I in the workplace.

#1. Above all, be authentic

This is the first and most important aspect of any approach to DE&I.

Every Pride Month, every Black History Month, every International Women’s Day, insincere corporations come under fire from the public for self-serving social posts deemed as corporate virtue-signaling. When your commitment to DE&I can be summarized as an annual website rebrand or marketing campaign, people will see right through it.

The whole point of championing DE&I is that you have to mean it. It’s got to be authentic, or you’ll be seen as driving sales by aligning your brand with a cultural movement.

Look at your communications, look at the actions that underpin them, and look at how you’re progressing your values: If any of it boils down to a box-ticking exercise or a compromise to appease critique, you need to rethink your approach.

Tan France at Unite 21 employee experience conference

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Authenticity starts with your voice and is driven by action. Internal communicators must support their organization’s efforts to advance DE&I by communicating your goals and purpose, as well as your plan to achieve this, but also offer updates along the way. Benchmarks and metrics that hold your vision to account offer a transparent way of tracking progress and demonstrating that you mean what you say.

#2. IC must help define DE&I culture

Often, hiring managers will prioritize candidates with a strong ‘culture fit’.

It’s worth asking ourselves what this fit means today, and whether we really want to support cultures that may perpetuate unconscious biases.

As communicators, we can work to redefine organizational culture and bring previously marginalized or ‘othered’ voices to the centre of things, helping us connect with the greater purpose behind our work.

To achieve this, we cannot just ‘hand off’ DE&I to HR departments. We must immerse ourselves in the matter and ensure we have a seat at the table where the dialogue takes place.

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A great place to start is by ensuring internal comms has a voice in creating your organization’s equity statement.

Your equity value statement must be bold. To properly address DE&I challenges and actions you’re committed to taking, you’ll need to consult a variety of stakeholders across the organization.

Determine your goals and what you hope to accomplish. Offer the plan of action which will put these values into practice. Provide benchmarks for progress that allow others to hold your vision to account. Finally, don’t shy away from language that calls out systemic barriers to equity, and how you intend to overcome them.

#3. Empower employee voice

Much as with social media, workplace technology offers the opportunity for people to carve out a digital identity for themselves. We all can use that identity to establish our voice as a part of the ongoing DE&I dialogue within the workplace.

Internal comms can leverage this newfound platform to pass the mic to employees, and ensure that the conversation around diversity is itself led by a diverse range of voices. IC can create digital spaces that encourage colleagues to make their own story heard, be it through user-generated content or social engagement.

IC can also turn to sites and social channels to create safe spaces for progressive dialogues, dedicating channels to micro-communities, like DE&I champions or women in leadership groups, or to host educational DE&I resources and personal employee stories.

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The point here is to take the dialogue around DE&I away from one source, the communicators, and share it across the business. Because what is diversity if it’s only pushed from one place? The individual perspective is such a valuable resource when it comes to advancing DE&I at work, so any communicator would be remiss not to actively provide a platform for people to make theirs heard.

#4. Accessibility underpins engagement

For technology to deliver on its promise to democratize access to knowledge and empower employees to share their experiences, it must be accessible to all.

According to Gartner:

"By 2025, over 80% of organizations will use accessibility as a key criterion for digital workplace technology investments — up from 20% in 2021."

Gartner - 2022 Workplace Predictions

Being mindful of accessibility considerations is a key part of creating an inclusive workplace – especially as the workplace becomes more digital. According to Forrester, 1 in 5 adults in the workplace are affected by disability and over 80% are hidden.

When you’re investing in new technology or reviewing the technology you have in place, look out for WCAG 2.1 AA compliancy. Features like dark mode, keyboard navigation, text-to-speech and screen readers, high contrast branding and theming, multilingual translation, and closed caption or audio descriptive metadata help to ensure inclusive digital environments that welcome users with experiences that suit their needs.

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Similarly, your frontline employees require digital experiences that ensure they are a valued and represented part of your workforce. Ensure you offer these features to establish an inclusive connection between the frontline and HQ:

  • Mobile apps that offer all the tools desktop users enjoy
  • Features like offline reading that enable remote users to access content even without an internet connection
  • Ideation portals that offer a line of communication between your organization and those that directly interact with your customers

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#5. Educate with inclusive language

Language, imagery, and communication harbor great potential. It can build relationships and forge connections but is equally capable of forming formidable walls and threatening an individual’s sense of belonging.

When we make the effort to use inclusive language, we invite everyone to the table at equal footing.

Ensure you’re on the right side of that dynamic by creating and hosting DE&I-friendly style guides on your intranet for others to learn and use in their own work. Style guides establish consistency and raise awareness about what it means to use inclusive language. Make sure your language is ADA compliant and avoid reliance on common stereotypes and idioms.

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Small things like capitalizing Black, or using Hispanic or Latinx instead of Latino, can make a difference. Have you ever asked people to “step up” to a cause? Think about how these common phrases can uphold stereotypes.

It’s important to realize that inclusive language is not about being politically correct or not saying the ‘wrong thing’. It’s about communicating in a way that doesn’t alienate or ‘other’ people, celebrating individuality instead of avoiding offense.

Turn to technology as a home for DE&I

Providing resources and enhancing the visibility of initiatives, the intranet can become the home for all DE&I information and strengthen a true partnership between IC and HR departments. In doing so, it can also become a valuable tool for all employees to take the stage and add their perspective to the DE&I discourse.

Coloured ducks on a wall symbolizing diversity

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DE&I initiatives thrive when passionate people take the helm. Your DE&I champions need a central hub, both for collaborating and for promoting visibility across the organization. A community-driven social channel or intranet site can be this home while simultaneously acting as a go-to hub for other colleagues to find the latest updates and access educational resources.

Two-way feedback mechanisms like polls, quizzes, surveys, and forms can also help you source definitive answers. They offer employees a way to make their voice heard privately – even anonymously – so you’re not just hearing from the active social posters, but everyone with an opinion.

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Take content beyond lip service

One of the hardest things for communicators to get right with DE&I is ensuring that messaging isn’t seen to placate, to just scratch the surface and not seek to make genuine change.

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Features like Engagement Automation put new power in the hands of communicators to tell stories and delve deeper, ensuring campaigns receive the support they need to reach and connect with people beyond what a single article or post can achieve.

Engagement Automation DE&I campaign

With marketing-grade campaign automation and benchmarking, internal communications can schedule multi-channel campaigns and take a snapshot of the wider engagement with DE&I initiatives. Stories can be told to wider audiences, given more of a platform to reach people, and communicators can adapt their messaging to ensure people resonate with the organization's approach to DE&I in the workplace.

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