Posted: 17 Feb. 2022 8 min. read

Using strategic communications to accelerate your DEI strategy

Developing an effective DEI communications strategy

By Christina Brodzik, Melissa Yim, Abigail Leonard, and Jacob Custer

In the 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report, 67% of executives reported that their organizational metrics will measure societal goals and impacts on diversity and inclusion. To support these objectives and the ongoing development of comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies, leaders are increasingly focused on how to communicate their organization’s DEI strategy.

From an internal standpoint, a strategic communications plan can act as a catalyst for advancing DEI strategy and actions. Leaders owe it to both their organizations and individuals to communicate the importance of DEI early and often. Effective DEI strategic communications help individuals embrace new beliefs and behaviors ultimately supporting a shift in organizational culture that fosters equity and belonging. To strategically communicate DEI internally, communications should be focused and aligned at the organizational level and the personal level.

When communicating DEI at the organizational level, evaluate whether the communication strategy is branded, intentional, engaging, and holistic:

  • Branded: Your DEI strategy should have a recognizable and clear brand. Communications should stay consistent to build brand recognition, while also shifting when appropriate to meet the right moment or audience. Tactically this may include reoccurring elements such as logos or banners, but also refers to the phrases and commitments being made, which help reinforce the strategic purpose. Branding also encompasses a dedicated style guide, typography, visual storytelling, and appropriate imagery reflective of a diverse audience.
  • Intentional: Messages and actions need to be intentionally planned and the purpose should be clear to the intended audiences. Without an understanding of what the organization is aiming to achieve, employees may miss the broader picture. The level of transparency is also a critical factor of your DEI strategic communications plan. Transparency about your organization’s starting point, progress, and goals increases organizational accountability and helps close the gap between DEI messaging and actions. Further, when communicating to the workforce about DEI in times of crisis, a structured framework and processes are necessary to deliver purposeful messaging that is timely and relevant. Planning each message and action can prevent organizations from being perceived by employees as too slow and cautious about DEI and social justice issues.
  • Engaging: To engage employees and promote positive change, communications that promote authentic conversations and two-way dialogue should be a priority, including town halls or Q&A sessions. One-way communication tactics where participants are asked only to listen and not actively participate may not help employees feel heard or involved in the larger organizational goals. The communication mediums you use should also reflect the diversity of your audiences (i.e., team huddles and digital tools for frontline employees).  
  • Holistic: DEI messages must clearly reflect the organization’s stance and should be holistically tied to the organizational values. When communicating about a topic such as DEI where the goal is systemic change, paint a picture for your workforce of what the future vision looks like for your organization and the concrete actions needed to realize that vision. Without outlining tangible actions that the organization is taking to reach a common goal, employees are left wondering what their role is and how they can influence the agenda. To maximize impact, integrate the DEI communication strategy with internal marketing, PR, and communications teams.

Common pitfalls when communicating DEI at the organizational level involve:

  • Writing statements on racial equity with limited depth, undefined action, or no specific commitment (e.g., leaders expressing their commitment to DEI without providing any actionable steps). 
  • Sharing inauthentic messages that do not align with the organization’s demonstrated values, beliefs, and behaviors (e.g., words and actions or leaders and organizational values are misaligned).

When communicating DEI at the personal level, each person across the organization has a role to play and can take ownership by following the guidelines below:  

  • Share Your Story: Provide a setting where you and your employees can share your own personal narrative around DEI. These personal stories can be incorporated in DEI programs to help drive allyship and awareness. Cultivating an environment where everyone feels comfortable to voice their experiences with witnessing or experiencing bias can create a greater sense of community.
  • Use Inclusive Language: Communication is language after all, and inclusive language is the recognition that words matter. Explore the power of inclusive language to ensure you are speaking in the most inclusive way possible.
  • Listen, Listen, Listen: Sometimes speaking is not the answer to everything— promoting the act of listening is critical to advancing DEI, and it helps to avoid assumptions and connect with others on a deeper, personal level. Listening to your colleagues can help each other feel heard and create a more inclusive environment overall.
  • Reinforce the DEI Strategy: Introducing strategic DEI messaging is only the beginning of the process—a planned cadence of communications can help reinforce messaging with employees and promote accountability. By having measurable goals, the organization can objectively communicate progress which can help empower individuals to buy into the DEI vision.

Common pitfalls when communicating DEI at the personal level involve:

  • Disregarding or questioning the real experiences shared by those with various backgrounds.
  • Not actively seeking out or listening to other’s perspectives.

No matter the stage or comprehensiveness of your organization’s DEI strategy, the steps you take to communicate your plans are an integral part of the process. Think deeply about the experience of individuals on the other end of your plan and put yourself in their shoes—do they believe in the messages you’re putting forward? The organizational and personal communication tactics you are using are central to that answer. ­­



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