5 steps to creating a more inclusive culture

Communicators can become indispensable bridge builders by listening to employees, confronting biases and standing up for what’s right.

Diversity in the workplace

Diversity is a hot business topic.

Persistent gender pay gap disparities, #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement are all forcing companies to be more mindful—and proactive—about tackling serious societal issues at the office. It’s not just about culture or fairness; it’s a bottom-line issue.

There’s plenty of evidence to support the notion that diversity in the workplace is linked to enhanced financial performance, problem-solving power and employee engagement. So, it’s no wonder companies are keen to create environments where employees’ differences are respected and celebrated.

Here are five ways communications pros can create a more inclusive culture at work:

1. Listen to employees.

When you’re buffeted by the winds of endless requests and projects, employee research often falls by the wayside. Don’t let it.

For an internal communicator, employees are the key audience. If you don’t know who they are or you don’t understand their communication needs and preferences, how can you produce pieces that drive behavioral and emotional change? How can you be inclusive if you don’t include your colleagues in the content creation process?

As time-consuming (or potentially painful) as it might be, you must consistently lend an empathetic ear to your co-workers. Regularly gathering feedback from a diverse group of voice will help you uncover burbling workplace concerns, and you might even catch a tone-deaf message before it’s too late.

With so many employee feedback channels now available—engagement surveys, focus groups, intranets, internal comms audits or champion networks—there’s no excuse not to be a better listener at work. Informal chats with colleagues can provide invaluable insights if you face budget or time constraints.

2. Confront biases.

Are you negatively judging someone at work—perhaps without even realizing it? A 2017 study found that employees who feel “negatively judged” by their managers are more likely to withhold their ideas and solutions, talk negatively about their employers on social media and quit their jobs within a year.

It’s important to challenge our biases if we’re to be effective corporate storytellers, internal connectors and strategic advisors. Be mindful of the employees you choose to feature in stories, and actively push for more diversity in your messaging. Tell stories that celebrate diversity and highlight your company’s efforts to create an inclusive culture. Use your platform to be a uniter.

Also, lead by example. Spend time with colleagues you wouldn’t typically associate with. Try initiatives that encourage interaction and mingling. (Coffee Roulette is fun.)

Going out of your way to make people feel welcome will help you smash silos, and you’ll be expanding your internal network at the same time. Casual conversations are a good first step toward confronting biases.

3. Don’t be afraid to challenge stakeholders.

Internal communicators have a unique opportunity to become the “corporate conscience.” However, this requires mustering the courage to push back, speak up and speak out.

If you want to be more than just a managerial mouthpiece, you must be willing to

challenge leaders on behaviors, policies and practices that could alienate employees. It’s much easier to remain quiet about “sensitive” issues in the workplace, but communicators can and should be the ones to pipe up about injustice, incivility or unfair treatment.

If you see sexism, racism or discrimination, call it out. Challenge execs to create a culture that matches your lofty corporate values.

Standing up for what’s right might rock the boat in the short term, but you’ll eventually win companywide respect for taking a brave, ethical stance.

4. Follow the news and public debate.

We often hear the phrase “what’s internal is external,” but the opposite is also true.

Internal communication does not take place in a vacuum. External political, economic, social, technological and legal factors should shape the way we communicate. If you try to ignore real-world events, you’ll lose credibility and seem out of touch.

Take the #MeToo movement. The continued revelation of widespread sexual harassment and abuse continues to roil many industries—forcing many organizations to review existing policies, procedures and behaviors. For many, however, it’s just business as usual. Nothing to see here, and certainly nothing we need to discuss at work.

Instead of disregarding this world-shaking reckoning, get real with employees. Ignoring the big issues of the day is a great way to make your messaging irrelevant, toothless and ancillary.

5. Aim to represent and inspire.

Are your communications reflective of all the people who work at your company? They should be.

In addition to measuring ROI for your campaigns and initiatives, consider monitoring a diversity and inclusion metric. This is imprecise, of course, but it’s worth keeping tabs on how many front-line workers you feature compared with coverage devoted to senior leaders. Challenge yourself and your team to include different people in different roles from different backgrounds.

Be open-minded about whose voices you elevate through your content, and consistently push your executives to take companywide inclusion seriously.

Catering to a diverse workforce is no easy feat, and we all make mistakes along the way. The key is to keep talking, challenging your own thinking, and to be brave. Despite our differences, we all want to be treated with kindness and respect. Communicators are in a prime position to reinforce this simple notion every day.

Annique Simpson is an internal communications pro based in London. A version of this post first appeared on the H&H blog.


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