How to use internal communications to drive your DE&I strategy

Persistent, positive messaging is the best way for organisations to shape their workplace culture

Planning staff events, writing newsletters, sending out emails, and updating the intranet. These roles are integral to a functioning internal communications department.

In essence, the internal communications department, or internal comms, is the company’s newsroom. And these activities translate an organisation’s vision into key messages to a) keep the workforce informed, b) keep them engaged and c) shape work culture.

Aside from training and recruitment, internal communications is arguably the best way to influence work culture. So, how exactly can organisations use internal comms to drive their DE&I strategy?

More companies are becoming aware that their power lies in the diversity of their workforce. They realise that ensuring their workers feel valued and seen is one of the most effective ways of retaining their employees. Research has found that diverse and inclusive workplaces financially outpace their competitors, are more innovative and have higher employee retention rates. DE&I has thus climbed up the priority ladder for more corporations. Yet, there is still work to be done.

But where does internal comms fit into this?

Why internal comms is important for driving DEI

Employees want to feel heard and represented and that they belong. They want to know that diversity matters to their employer. Glassdoor reports that 76% of job seekers consider DEI an important factor when seeking opportunities.

However, according to The Heard and the Heard-Nots report by The Workforce Institute at UKG and Workplace Intelligence, which surveyed 4000 employees, nearly half (47%) say they felt that underrepresented voices remain undervalued by employers.

The same study shows that DE&I is one of the areas employees feel the least heard. This is unfortunate as diverse and inclusive workplaces earn deeper trust and more commitment from their employees. This is where internal comms is needed to make necessary positive changes, and here are some examples to demonstrate how.

Three ways internal comms can push DE&I

1. Avoid jumping on the bandwagon or performing tokenism

In 2020, after George Floyd’s murder, more than 950 brands posted black squares on social media, promising their commitment to racial justice. But unfortunately, black squares without Black voices or faces drain any meaning from the movement. Similarly, every year, organisations fall over themselves to design a poster, organise an event or send out a newsletter for Women’s Month, Black History Month, Pride month, and Disability History Month. Such gestures fail to enact real change if not backed by a commitment to action and learning.

So how can internal communications avoid this?

Usually, the internal communications manager or director will sign off content before it’s published. It is, therefore, important for that person to ensure their department is committed to DE&I all year round.

Also, all staff communications should be underpinned by DE&I. This is the best way to influence culture without overwhelming employees for short bursts of time. For example, the images they use should be a true representation of the workforce. Internal comms teams should ensure they consistently highlight employees of different racial backgrounds, age groups, body types, and abilities.

2. Make communication two-ways

One important thing internal communications must do is to pass the mic to its employees. Gone are the days of intranets with no comment sections, discussion forums or social networking platforms. Addresses from the CEO should now hold space for questions and answers. “Internal comms can help craft an open and transparent environment by providing opportunities for a two-way conversation”, says Sarah F. She has worked in the industry for over five years.

There may be a disconnect between upper management’s perception and how employees feel. Perhaps HR has fulfilled its ethnicity quota, which looks good on the surface. But in reality, there are culturally insensitive office policies that marginalise a particular group. For example, workplaces with policies that allude to “professional hairstyles” may put unnecessary pressure on Black female employees (who have traditionally faced the most hair discrimination) to chemically straighten their hair. Employees’ true feelings will go unaddressed without internal communication channels to ease dialogue.

Feedback should lead to changes. “One of the worst things that organisations can do is ask for feedback and do nothing with it”, says Sharlyn Lauby, HRM-SCP, author of HR Bartender, President of ITM Group Inc, and Global Advisory Board Member of The Workforce Institute at UKG.

Regular staff surveys or “temperature checks” to capture the mood of the workplace, followed by tangible action, are a great place to start.

3. Ensure all employees can access internal comms

Without accessibility for all staff, the “E for equity” in DE&I is non-existent. In large corporations, or organisations with multiple locations, there are likely to be employees working away from the main head office who will go below the radar – this has been especially true since the pandemic when working in silos became commonplace.

Internal events should thus consider staff with reduced mobility or accessibility issues. By organising events that are more inclusive in their structure (there should be options to attend virtually as well as in person), the internal comms team is making a statement about its commitment to DEI. Events should also be inclusive through the people that are invited to speak.

Staff videos should always include subtitles and audio descriptions. Documents, emails, and intranet pages should follow accessibility rules.

Internal comms and DE&I today

Organisations in today’s corporate world should use internal comms to drive their DE&I strategy. It is one of the most effective ways a company’s leaders can leverage its influence and carry along its workforce as it moves closer to its vision.

“Internal comms can help create an environment which reflects the ‘good bad and the ugly’ about an organisation and tell its story about where it’s been, where it’s now and where it wants to go to the future,” Sarah F reflects. But it takes time and patience. “There are no quick fixes or shortcuts, but effective internal communications can help initiate and sustain a transformation.”

Modern internal communications is about allowing workers to tell their own stories, acting on employee feedback, breaking communication barriers between the workforce and the CEO, and creating culturally sensitive, accessible, and exciting content all year round.

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