Communicating DEI: Five Critical Questions

Many companies have made progressive changes to their approach in recruiting, hiring and management to make the workplace an environment where everyone can succeed. While diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have long been valued by employees looking for a sense of belonging in their workplace, recent societal events have made DEI strategy and policies crucial for organizations.

“DEI strategy and policies are no longer “nice to have”—They are the bare minimum, without which organizations will not be able to attract and retain the talent they need to succeed.” This was one of the fascinating insights Dora Chang, office business leader and change management advisor, discussed in her article “Communicating DEI: Five Critical Questions” that appeared in the March/April issue of Plans & Trusts magazine. As a change management advisor for Mercer based in Victoria, British Columbia, Chang works with clients to develop effective DEI strategies and to deliver the optimal mix of programs, policies and processes based on data, analytics and employee listening research.

In the article, Chang focuses on key operational changes organizations should consider when implementing new DEI standards in the workplace. Effective strategies require a mindful approach, which can preclude challenges and build cohesion through the process.

Here are five core principles that Chang discussed for communicating DEI plans.

1. Be consistent.

Communications and messages must be aligned, not only across platforms but across levels of the organization. Managers and chief executives must be able to effectively explain and frame a DEI change. Leadership matters. Executives who model new behavior and are ready to address questions and embrace change within the organization will empower others to be part of the new company culture.

2. Measure engagement.

The best communications in the world won’t matter if a business’s workforce isn’t engaged. Technology and multichannel messaging make it possible to reach more employees by providing consistent communication across the organization. Measure engagement with metrics like open rates, bounce rates and pulse surveys. Chang advises taking stock—not only of existing platforms but of the broad spectrum of existing formal and informal communications activities—to identify any gaps or missed opportunities.

3. Be transparent and accountable.

 To maintain confidence in an organization’s DEI strategy, management must be transparent in their goals and accountable for achieving them. Providing training and talking points along with open lines of two-way communication will help ensure that an organization’s workforce will be aligned with the new direction. Creating an appropriate level of transparency is crucial to building an accountable DEI program.

4. Watch details.

Review DEI communications to ensure that the language itself is welcoming and inclusive. Certain words that may be commonly used but have historically discriminatory roots may be alienating or offensive to equity-seeking populations. “Be aware of risks along with opportunities; small details can make members of equity-seeking groups feel excluded, they can also make them feel like they belong,” Chang said. “A minor detail like adding pronouns to signatures in emails—for all employees—can help transgender or nonbinary employees feel included in an organization.”

5. Listen.

For a DEI initiative to be effective and impactful, management needs to understand the organizational issues and be willing to address them. The hard work of discovery requires taking an honest look at your organization and its talent flow. Chang suggested that doing in-depth interviews with leaders, providing safe spaces for employees to speak their minds and creating working groups to identify issues and develop action plans can help organizations understand what their workforce is feeling and allows them to measure progress.

Chang stressed that for a DEI program to be effective, management must set targets and prioritize meeting them. Business leaders must establish and enforce standards for interpersonal behavior and respect­—while holding themselves and others accountable. As employees’ expectations of business shift, focusing on increasing DEI in the workplace brings organizations opportunities to empower employees, give them room to grow and enrich the company culture.

Tim Hennessy
Editor at the International Foundation

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