Black History Month is a perfect time to look at the role that communications plays throughout the year in ensuring that workplaces and marketing efforts prioritize diversity and inclusion (D&I) and engage a range of perspectives.
Aside from being the right thing to do, proactively embracing D&I --and being vocal about it -- is table stakes for entities striving to build a following. Companies that fail to do so can face swift and severe bottom-line retribution and reputational damage.
Below, a refresher on considerations for how your communications team can support your company’s D&I efforts.
Some of the most notorious communications faux pas most likely originated with a basic problem: there simply was not enough representation in the room when a company’s decisions were being made. People of various backgrounds, cultures, and orientations can bring the perspective needed to understand how words and images will be perceived by different individuals. Diverse voices collaborating together can be crucial to the success of your company’s announcement or high-profile campaign launch.
"The communications team has an important role to play in ensuring that both internal and external missives embrace current thinking on the word choice and characterizations embraced by specific groups of individuals."
Minding the Details
When planning initiatives, think through word choices and timing carefully. For instance, does your companywide meeting fall on the same day as an important cultural, ethnic or religious observance? Is there anything about your word choices that could inadvertently leave out or offend certain populations? Your communications team can help ensure that internal and external messages reflect current word choices and characterizations embraced by specific groups of individuals. While some of this language may be evolving even while you’re developing a particular plan or product, what matters more is that companies make a good-faith effort to educate themselves and be respectful.
Many companies make the mistake of relegating diversity to the HR department. While diverse recruiting and hiring is key, all of this is moot if the company culture doesn’t match up, leading qualified candidates to look elsewhere. From an internal communications standpoint, it should be clear to employees that diversity is a priority based on the behavior of the CEO and exhibited at all levels of the company. The CEO should also make clear that managers will be held accountable if new diverse hires are made to feel uncomfortable or struggle to find mentors. In addition to their actions, leaders should discuss how crucial inclusion is to the company mission and bottom line via company town halls or monthly updates on D&I efforts.
Shortly after taking office, President Biden punctuated the swearing in of his appointees by saying, “If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treated another colleague with disrespect – talk down to someone – I promise I will fire you on the spot.” While perhaps not a practical approach for all of corporate America, this is the type of strong, unequivocal communication of commitment to D&I that can help companies avoid or mitigate problems.
Acknowledging the Mistakes
There may be missed opportunities and, unfortunately, even a misstep or two in your D&I efforts. However, your communications team can help your company to navigate through these times and to act quickly and transparently. While no one expects a company to wave a magic wand, they do expect a commitment to improving and to sharing progress. The process of how your company is moving from Point A to Point B in its D&I journey can be a cornerstone in a carefully prepared communications strategy.
We look forward to seeing more heightened awareness and a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion from all companies – and not just during Black History Month. Doing so on an ongoing basis can lead to business growth, with more diverse workforces and leadership, and greater sensitivity and empathy toward others.