By Linda Devonish – Mills, CAE, CPA, CMA, MBA, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consultant
A key indicator of an organization’s success with its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy is cross – collaborative efforts between a Chief Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Officer (CDEIO) and other senior leaders. Should such collaboration include staff from branding and marketing teams? Yes. Similar to other strategies, execution of DEI strategies is not successful if stakeholders are not aware of progress. All internal methods, mediums, and channels through which stakeholders can receive messages should be considered when developing a DEI communications plan.
Most branding and marketing teams among organizations have evolved to include a professional that has the title and responsibility of a storyteller. An effective storyteller knows how to combine text, visuals, and audio components to display a compelling story. A storyteller that is developing communication about an organization’s DEI strategy has to be familiar with typical language that usually describes that type of strategy. The Diversity Style Guide is a great resource to use when in doubt about the appropriate usage of words when describing an organization’s DEI strategy. Visuals play an integral role with effective story telling. Organizations sometimes make the mistake with using the same stock of photography to convey DEI messages. Using stock photography is a missed opportunity for organizations to effectively describe important messages about DEI messages. Visuals describing such messages should represent the audience that an organization is trying to connect with; e.g., stakeholders.
The plan should refer to goals related to each vehicle or venue used for communication efforts. Resources such as time and financial support should be included in a DEI communications plan. Branding and marketing professionals usually involved in DEI communication plans should be referred to in plans for accountability. Examples of employees involved in DEI communications plans are those that are involved in public relations, social media and website design. Anticipated results and deliverables should be described in communication plans to avoid animosity with outcomes. Each deliverable should be assigned to a level of impact (e.g.; low, medium, high) towards communication of DEI strategies. This is helpful with strategy mapping. For example, if all communicative efforts are identified as a low impact towards an organization’s DEI strategy, that is a good indication for an organization to re-evaluate its plan to determine communicative efforts that serve as stronger influences.
The first step with communication is to determine an audience’s preference with receiving correspondences. If an audience of stakeholders seem to be savvy with technology, then messages should be conveyed electronically through an e-mail blast or listserv, not by traditional mail. Conveying DEI messages by traditional mail can be mistaken for junk mail.
A typical message received by stakeholders can be a letter or note from the CDEIO. An initial note can describe their vision on how they anticipate rollout of an organization’s DEI strategy. A more effective approach with conveying such an effective message is issuing a message jointly with an organization’s President and CEO. This will give stakeholders an impression that DEI is a high priority among an organization’s senior – executive team. Such messages should be shared at least quarterly or semi – annually to give stakeholders timely updates on the organization’s progress with its DEI strategy.
A lot of organizations have an internal newsletter that is published monthly or quarterly to inform employees about operational updates. This is a platform where employees that may be members of an internal DEI Steering Committee can describe an organization’s plans and progress with its DEI initiatives.
Newsletters or other internal publications can be used to publish employee spotlights. Most employees are familiar with their colleagues professionally but not personally. An organization’s CDEIO or an employee from a publications or branding and marketing team can provide a template that employees can use to share their personal backgrounds. This type of exchange can help employees increase their cultural awareness about their colleagues.
Here is an example of what can be included in an employee profile:
Name: Linda Devonish-Mills
Your hometown: Harlem, Upper West Side of Manhattan, NYC
Company Role: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant
Other roles held outside of current professional role: Member of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Council, Proud mother of two daughters and grandmother to my grandson
An interesting fact about me: I wanted to explore a career in instrumental music prior to pursuing a career in business
Hobbies and interests: Cycling, Dancing, Physical Fitness, Reading, Going to Concerts, Plays and Movies, Bowling
Your top 3 favorite Podcasts/Books: Becoming by Michelle Obama, Americana by Chimimanda Adichie, and Autobiography of Malcolm X
Favorite music and travel destinations: Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, Soca, Salsa, Barbados, Paris and Amsterdam
If I could be described in 1-3 words, it would be: Personable, Loyal, and Ambitious
Favorite quote: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent – Eleanor Roosevelt
What are 1-3 of your strong skills that someone may want to learn from you? Strong writing and verbal communication skills, Raising successful children that turned out to be my role models, Building my personal brand
Employee profiles should be no more than one page to prevent loss of interest among readers. It would be nice to provide a photo to associate a name with a face. This exchange of information among colleagues is a great start with establishing an inclusive environment within a workplace.
Podcasts and webinars are great forums to bring internal and external stakeholders to talk about pertinent topics that may impact an organization’s journey with its DEI initiatives. For example, podcasts served as a great platform in 2020 for African – American employees to talk about how the senseless killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and others affected their mental health. Candor about their feelings towards the senseless killings equipped their colleagues on how to interact with African – American colleagues during that sensitive time and going forward.
Webinars are a great platform to provide training on DEI topics such as unconscious bias, microaggressions, and how to develop inclusive environments in the workplace. During these sessions, employees can talk about their resilience against stereotypes and providing best practices to achieve greater cultural competence in a workplace. An ideal duration of time for podcasts and webinars is 60 – 90 minutes depending on the topic.
An organization’s website can be a strong influence among potential stakeholders having an interest in finding out more about its journey with DEI. Most organizations do a good job with displaying their efforts with DEI on their website. However, placements of their efforts on a website are where mistakes are made among many organizations. Potential stakeholders want to see an organization’s efforts with DEI on a home page of its website. Such placement provides a powerful message that an organization embraces it journey with DEI as a priority.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube should definitely be utilized by an organization’s branding and marketing teams to post blogs written by the CDEIO on various DEI topics. The platforms can also be used to promote organizations’ conferences, webinars and podcasts that provides training or discussions about DEI topics.
CEO Action is a coalition led and administered by the Big 4 accounting firm, PWC. Why should organizations consider joining the coalition? It is a great way for senior leaders within organizations to communicate and share their journey with DEI with other organizations across industries. It can serve as a good resource for organizations to develop strategic partnerships with companies that are interested in supporting their journeys with DEI. Currently, over 2000 CEOs have taken a pledge on behalf of their organizations to assist with DEI initiatives across industries. This can be done by organizations taking an active role with leading webinars and podcasts to discuss DEI challenges within their industries and providing solutions accordingly.
Here are insights on the coalition’s growth since inception:
Additional information about the CEO Action coalition can be found at https://www.ceoaction.com.
What is the best way for organizations to gain ongoing buy – in from its internal and external stakeholders for its journey with DEI? Keep talking and keep up the momentum with ongoing storytelling. While many of the topics and challenges are potentially sensitive or seen as risky, failure for an organization to keep DEI in the spotlight will undermine any progress. Maintaining a truly inclusive workplace is a journey, which is why it is important to develop a DEI communications plan that allows for stakeholders to be informed and have a voice.
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