Monday 26 – Friday 30 September 2022. National Inclusion Week. Five days dedicated to building inclusion and championing its benefits. Those benefits are well documented. Whether you’re talking productivity, profitability or wellbeing, an inclusive culture drives results.
But, despite the rewards that inclusion brings, creating a truly inclusive workplace isn’t straightforward. It’s an ongoing journey that takes commitment and buy-in from all colleagues. And however good your strategies and policies, success can stand – or fall – on the strength of the way that they are communicated.
So, how do you create a communication strategy that successfully supports inclusion?
Understand your current baseline
There’s a useful metaphor that compares diversity and inclusion to an orchestra. Building diversity is about bringing in all the different instruments. Building inclusion is about creating a performance in which every instrument is used at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way.
That rarely happens. Even in the best orchestra, a musician may play a note wrong, miss a cue, drop the beat. And every time a new musician joins the orchestra, or one leaves, the orchestra has to readjust to stay in tune.
The same is true of inclusion. It requires continual readjustment. And the key to making those adjustments is to keep checking in with employees, and asking:
- What types of diversity do you have in your organisation?
- What are your colleagues’ inclusion needs right now?
- What are the current challenges and obstacles to inclusion?
Before you create any strategies or policies to address inclusion, stop, and listen to your people. Run surveys. Hold focus groups. Understand your demographics, know what colleagues value, and want, and discover the specific issues that need to be addressed, for your business.
Listening effectively is the launchpad for good communication. It ensures you will communicate about the most impactful things.
Ensure leadership is onboard
Once you have established your baseline – you know which inclusion issues you want to communicate first, and why – it’s vital to get the leadership onboard. This doesn’t mean simply winning a ‘go ahead’. It means ensuring that leadership:
- Understand the challenges and opportunities of inclusion
- Are there to act as champions and role models for change
- Know what’s expected of them, and why
Inclusion requires change, whether in mindset, behaviour, policy – or all three. For change to be effective, it has to be supported at the top of the organisation. That support has to be visible, and it has to be communicated. To do that, think about leaders as spokespeople:
- Sharing their insights into unconscious bias to raise understanding and awareness
- Proactively inviting, listening - and responding - to, and showing appreciation for different points of view
- Modelling active listening in meetings
- Being careful about the language they use
Ensuring that leadership teams are equipped to communicate and model inclusion is a critical step in building an inclusive workplace. Leaders set the tone for a workplace culture that values and embraces difference.
With leaders onboard, it’s important to set explicit expectations for managers about supporting inclusion within their teams, and how to do it. This should share the mindset you want them to have, and the actions you want them to take, as well as directing them to support, resources, and training.
Both your organisation as a whole, and individual teams, need to build a culture of inclusion. At team level, this is led by managers, who need to understand why inclusion matters, their role in creating it, and how to handle barriers to inclusion.
Involve all colleagues
Building inclusion requires inclusive communications that reach everyone across the business. That may involve:
- Making sure your messaging and branding feels authentic and relevant to colleagues.
- Reflecting on what colleagues have communicated, and responding directly to that feedback.
- Using different channels and formats to reach different groups.
- Building a champions network to promote inclusion at grassroots level.
- Supporting the creation and alignment of different employee resource groups/employee networks. Each of these groups may be focused on a different area of inclusion, but it’s important to facilitate the groups to work together wherever possible, or to create an agreed calendar of events, so that there aren’t competing inclusion activities taking place.
- Making your communications as human as possible. Discuss issues in a real and meaningful way.
- Promote a culture of trust where employees are comfortable sharing their personal stories
- What are the differences in the ways different communities may interact or communicate?
- What are microaggressions and how can they be avoided?
- What are the benefits of a diverse and inclusive community in terms of problem-solving and idea-generation?
This open communication broadcasts that this is an area of workplace culture that your organisation values and wants to improve.
The starting point is to establish a tone of voice that is friendly, warm, and invites everyone in, and that your external and internal visuals and communications reflect the diversity of your workplace. Ensure that everyone is represented.
A simple, and positive way to show all employees that they are welcome and valued is to celebrate the things that matter to them. That can be done:
- In big structural ways, like setting aside space for a prayer room in your buildings, to accommodate people of all faiths.
- In smaller ways, like encouraging colleagues to share their pronouns on their email signatures.
- Through regular engagement with important community events, like Pride.
- Through creative events – like a food festival where colleagues cook their national dishes.
- Through Buddy schemes, where colleagues are matched with people from different communities, to learn more about life through someone else’s eyes.
Celebrating difference welcomes different groups, and also builds understanding of, and interest in, other cultures and communities. It’s a win-win approach!
At its heart, inclusion is about welcoming people whose experiences, understanding and aptitudes may be entirely different from our own. That openness, and willingness to take on different perspectives, is both challenging and rewarding.
But organisations that don’t commit to enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion are organisations that will become increasingly left behind. They will have disengaged employees, who – feeling excluded – will be unable to contribute in an authentic and innovative way.
So, use National Inclusion Week to start conversations about where you are on your inclusion journey. Now is the time to move forward.