Opinion: How to tell your DE&I story with authenticity

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DIVERSITY, equity and inclusion (DE&I) have always been critical to the employee experience, and they’re becoming increasingly linked to a company’s bottom line, writes Emi Kamezaki. However, formal programming to support these goals are only now entering the mainstream. The need has been here all along but now, companies are ready to take action.

Following the pain and progress of 2020, employees are hyper-aware about how their employers are now communicating about DE&I-related initiatives. According to a 2020 study titled ‘Diversity wins: How inclusion matters’ by global management consulting firm McKinsey, 52 per cent of employees felt positively about their company’s diversity, but 61 per cent felt negatively about their company’s inclusion policies. This underscores a stark gap in businesses’ intentions and how they’re following through with action and communication. Too often, organizations are hurrying to tick a box without pausing to consider what they’re really trying to accomplish and how they can do it with authenticity. 

That’s where communication comes in. Whether your company is just starting to build its DE&I approach, or you have a robust program already in place, communicating these efforts within and outside of your organization is critical to success. It’s more than a social media post on a cultural heritage month, it’s a two-way conversation with constant adjustments to meet the needs of your team and your business. These tips will help your company to communicate about DE&I from a place of authenticity to truly meet your stakeholders where they are.

Tip one: Align on a common purpose 

Primarily, DE&I efforts are intended to foster a sense of belonging among your employees, customers and other stakeholders. That’s why it’s so important to start with an honest reflection on where your company is today. It’s key to get on the same page about how bold you want to be and the strategic priorities of the business. Audit not only your communications, but every area of your business. Conduct a survey to gain real, measurable insights into how your audiences are feeling, and how your communications can help them feel supported. These conversations and insights should guide your vision and actions to bolster DE&I in a deliberate way. A successful DE&I strategy must be integrated into every facet of your company and be closely linked to your corporate values.

Tip two: Be honest and transparent

Honesty and transparency are the most critical components of DE&I communications. These seem like obvious considerations but facing the realities of inequality in the workplace can be uncomfortable – there’s a lot to unpack. It’s even more uncomfortable to share those insights widely and transparently. That’s why there’s a tendency to showcase wins without owning weaknesses. But when your employees feel seen and know you’re working to support them, they’re more likely to engage in your efforts and even champion your brand outside of the workplace. Tell the story of where you are now in a way that brings people together and sets a clear path for the future.

Tip three: Don’t just listen, value BIPOC voices

Giving Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) a seat at the table is a vital first step, but you also need to value these voices and the lived experiences that inform their perspectives. That means empowering your employees to feel comfortable sharing their viewpoints in the workplace and providing the resources they need to be successful. Currently, Black women are almost twice as likely to say they can’t bring their whole selves to work, and more than 1.5 times as likely to say they don’t have strong allies, compared to women overall, according to the Women in the Workplace 2020 study carried out by McKinsey. The myriad, often unrecognized obstacles faced by BIPOC employees must be addressed via systemic changes across the board – including recruitment, pay structures, policies, training, investments and more.

Tip four: Pair words with action

Setting measurable goals is one of the best ways to ensure you’re on the right track and to keep your company accountable. But in today’s world, people won’t hesitate to call you out if you’re making promises but not delivering, or when your internal practices don’t align with external pledges. For example, since the George Floyd protests in May 2020, 22 per cent of top US companies made external commitments to reducing racial disparities, but only 18 per cent made commitments to promote diversity and inclusion internally, according to McKinsey. Employees and consumers are looking for companies to take the lead and use their power for good. 

Tip five: Transform your leadership into DE&I champions

Equally important, your company leadership must buy into the purpose of these efforts and create the space for ongoing conversation. DE&I communications are essential, and they’re strengthened when every person, regardless of their department or level, champions them. Your leaders can help you build the infrastructure for DE&I communications and set the precedent for what inclusive leadership looks like at your company. A great starting point is to equip your managers with the tools to communicate with inclusion and allyship in mind.

There are countless considerations to keep in mind when developing DE&I communications. The key is to approach them from a place of transparency and authenticity, so you move forward in a meaningful way. Without a doubt, DE&I communications are integral to the success of any business. The question is, how will your company make sure to get it right?