How leadership can model authentic DE&I comms

It’s critical that comms leaders play their part — this Juneteenth and beyond.

Seeing as we’re in the midst of Pride Month with Juneteenth on the horizon, it’s a great time to consider the impact that diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) comms have on both the perception our of organizations externally and our internal culture.

As with so many things in our communications world, effective communication around DE&I starts with effective leadership at the top. When communications leaders know how to navigate DE&I comms, they can set the stage for a stronger workplace culture.

A key part of the business plan

With DE&I such a major part of overall comms strategies at many organizations in today’s world, leadership should know best practices on DE&I comms in a general sense. But they should also grasp the concept that communications centering on DE&I aren’t just part of culture-building efforts —- they’re a big part of building a competitive business, too.

Sukhi Sahni, communications expert & adjunct professor at Georgetown University, said that comms leaders should think of crafting strategies around DE&I as important as any other function that their department undertakes.

“DEI should be part of the core business, culture, and DNA at your company,” said Sahni. “Similarly, for communicators, it’s important that they put a DEI lens to everything they do — their overarching strategy, tactics, messaging and execution.”

Janice Torres, publicist and founder of The Brand Phoenix, said that organizations should create their DE&I communications plans around the needs of their business and the wider social fabric around them.

“Each company is established with a mission that correlates with an opportunity to impact the customer it serves, and the communities it reaches,” Torres said. “Those purpose-driven initiatives might naturally evolve as a result of wider culture shifts that require expertise.”

Authenticity matters

While it’s undoubtedly a good thing that more organizations participate in DE&I efforts as a part of their general communications strategies, the actions behind those words are what really matters. Think about the imagery we see during Pride Month — it’s one thing to change your organization’s LinkedIn logo to the rainbow flag — it’s entirely another to actually tell the stories of LGBTQ+ employees and make real efforts towards community outreach and storytelling.

According to Sahni, leadership needs to consider the depth and impact of the comms strategies they undertake with respect to DE&I. Only with a thorough plan and deeper thought can they hope to create resonance with their audiences.

“It’s important for communicators to focus on quality vs quantity,” she said.

“While consistency is key with regard to getting the message across, it is important not to dilute the message and over saturate your audience and align it all back to the core business and brand values,” Sahni said. “Include a call to action, be transparent, and leverage the communications platform to inform and engage.”

Being a guide for others

It might sound overly simplistic, but one of the most key roles that comms leaders can play when it comes to DE&I communications is to do what their job description says — lead.

Leaders should seek to showcase employees who show how DE&I is a critical part of what makes the organization the great place to work that it is. This can start with a storytelling push that focuses on recognition from the top. When the organization sees that leadership is bought in, the sentiment is more likely to trickle down.

“Try to include a sense of inclusion and belonging in your storytelling efforts with stories of real people,” Sahni said. She added that this will help drive home the reality of the positive impacts that DE&I can have on company culture.

She also said that leaders should place a strong emphasis on visual comms strategies during DE&I comms work, stating the importance of allowing people to see the impacts of the message.

“Use imagery that is inclusive because images often say a lot more than the words,” continued Sahni. “Diversify the voices and faces behind these messages, and work to give the spotlight to people who can encourage greater allyship and consistently leverage your community and industry partners.”

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

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