Headlines are littered with organizations’ tattered reputations due to diversity missteps.
“[They’re] the culturally clueless missteps that make members of the misrepresented say, ‘Well, clearly there were none of us in the room when this decision was made,’” says Janet Stovall, executive communications manager at UPS. “There are examples everywhere.”
These missteps are especially important to avoid as more and more consumers seek out organizations that lead with values, also urging them to take stances on social and political issues.
You don’t have to have “diversity and inclusion” in your title to affect positive change, either. Stovall has been an effective advocate for these issues since her days at Davidson College:
So, how can your organization sidestep one of these moments and implement diversity and inclusion programs that work?
Start with defining the business case for it within your industry and organization, and present it to your executives for buy-in.
Business is in the business of making money and being in business. So, what’s the real business case for diversity? Is there one? I would argue that yes, there is. D&I is a necessity for organizations that want not simply to survive but also to thrive—organizations that want competitive advantage, that want to lead their industries. Because if you choose not to leverage, for example, people of color and women –just two of the diverse groups out there—you’re ignoring well over 50% to 80% of your potential talent pool. That’s absolutely unsustainable for survival and completely antithetical for competition.
She says there are three requirements to creating a diversity and inclusion program that nets you results: real problems, real numbers and real consequences.
Use the following outline to craft your strategy:
1. Define real problems.
“Undertaking a diversity and inclusion initiative because it’s the right thing to do gets you a place in heaven,” Stovall says. “Doing it because it’s the smart thing to do gets it favored, formalized and funded.”
Though some organizations put a premium on values-driven communications efforts—including corporate social responsibility, workplace culture, diversity and inclusion—others won’t undertake the difficult work to implement change unless it helps the bottom line.
Unfortunately, diversity for diversity’s sake does not work for most companies. At least not in the beginning. You start by seeking specific business problems that diversity can solve. And they are different for every organization. Then, you solve them. You measure and you prove—objectively—the value of diversity in terms that business sense: dollars saved, crises averted, profit realized. It won’t take long before people start seeing the benefit and you have the support to expand the efforts.
2. Set real numbers.
“Aspirational goals look good in print,” Stovall says. “Actionable goals are actually achievable.”
Take her tenet to heart by ensuring your goals and objectives require your organization to stretch but are also obtainable. Otherwise, your strategy can quickly get ignored as landmarks are repeatedly missed.
An organization must ask itself, honestly, why it’s in the position to need goals in the first place. Then, set goals that make sense within the parameters of the organization’s interest and effort. In other words, before you set a goal to increase diversity recruitment by 25%, ask yourself why it’s at 2% now. Then, either fix the problem behind the low number or set the goal a lot lower.
3. Include real consequences.
“Of all the things business can do to get serious about inclusion, this is the most important,” Stovall says.
As you define the problems you aim to solve and set the numbers that mark your goals, include evaluation measures and consequences for reaching or missing those goals.
Companies that are serious about inclusion give managers clear, performance-based diversity and inclusion goals. They offer both carrots and sticks. They make people accountable.
As you set your strategy, don’t confuse diversity and inclusion nor use the phrase as a buzzword for unspecified goals that serve only to make your organization sound good. Instead, include both parts within your plans, tailored to how your organization can best improve.
“Diversity and inclusion are not the same things,” Stovall says. “Diversity is a numbers game. Inclusion is about impact. Diversity is bodies in the building. Inclusion is intention to empower.”
Why communicators must take the reins
Communicators can articulate the need for and diversity and inclusion programs, strategically plan the execution of those efforts, and help everyone within an organization realize the importance of such efforts (along with how they can take part).
It takes communications people before, between and after—on an ongoing basis—to make all that happen. Communications people are the ones who raise consciousness, define the mission, then shine a light into the chasm between mission and measures. Communications people initiate, moderate and perpetuate the courageous conversations that start, substantiate and sustain the D&I journey.
Another reason PR pros should lead the way is the increased focus on organizations’ diversity and inclusion efforts, which often arises in news media interviews and media relations opportunities. Stovall says that whether you’re focused on topical or tactical media training (“what to say or how to say it”), it’s crucial for executives to obtain diversity intelligence.
Diversity is that important a topic and, in a world simultaneously more diverse and more polarized, it can be a flash point. But even if you think your executives don’t have to tackle the topic, they need to understand what it means to deal with diverse media representatives—and their audiences—how to recognize, respect and respond to a completely different perspective.
Hiring managers should ensure media trainers are well equipped to address diversity as they coach executives and official spokespersons.
“If you’re looking to hire media trainers, ask if they have diversity as a core capability. If you already have trainers, ask if they can acquire the capability,” Stovall says. “If the answer is no—or as is more likely, ‘Huh?’—find someone within your communications organization that can provide it.”
Above all, Stovall says the way you can best get involved is to jump right in.
No matter where you are on the org chart, the mere fact that you’re a communicator and in the building means there’s somebody you can talk to about what the company is doing in D&I. If you happen to have the CEO’s ear, wonderful. But if you don’t, talk to somebody who works on D&I issues. Find out where you can help. Most D&I groups would jump at the chance to have a communications person involved. Eventually, you may be able to parlay it into a fulltime position. Be prepared to write your own job description.