Watching protests against racial injustice has often made me feel frustrated and hopeless. But I’ve been encouraged to see companies take a stand. Leaders from such organizations as Ben & Jerry’s, Nike and Walmart have spoken publicly about the need for change.
In fact, the situation has encouraged more and more company leaders to place a renewed emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). For some organizations, these issues have long been a priority, but for others these topics are fairly new. In both cases, there’s more candor and emotion than ever before.
The challenge for internal communicators is how to engage employees in DEI in an appropriate, relevant and safe way. The ideal is to encourage employees to ask questions, make suggestions and share their perspectives. What’s the best way to do so? Provide leaders and managers with the help they need to communicate with their team members. Here’s how:
1. Encourage leaders to speak from the heart
Leaders provide the big picture and set the tone in an organization. By revealing their true selves, they build respect and trust with employees. That’s why employees want leaders to be unscripted and genuine about diversity, equity and inclusion.
Here are some tips to share with leaders:
- Be specific. Don’t just say, “We’re committed…,” show it.
- Tell a personal story. Share an inspirational story that demonstrates the organization’s commitment.
- Use conversational language. Avoid corporate jargon and lots of statistics.
- Speak with humanity and empathy. Have the courage to show emotion.
2. Coach managers on how to promote dialogue
When employees have questions, they look to their managers. In fact, managers are employees’ preferred source of information. The key is to build on that by creating opportunities for two-way communication.
Managers can spark memorable conversations by:
- Giving employees airtime. Ask an open-ended question to get the party started. It can be as simple as asking, “How are you feeling about…”
- Reinforcing the organization’s commitment. Share success stories that show DEI is more than just words in a policy document.
- Actively listen. Engage with the speaker, make eye contact and rephrase what the employee said to gain clarity.
3. Encourage leaders and managers to keep up the momentum
Creating an organization that is diverse, equitable and inclusive is an ongoing process. Communication with employees should be too.
Here are ways leaders and managers can continue the conversation:
- Put DEI on the agenda. Include updates at town hall meetings to show progress. And be sure to allow time for discussion.
- Make the most of small group meetings. Talk about DEI when connecting with employees in smaller groups, such as coffee chats or skip-level luncheons. (If your leaders and managers are not already doing these, now is a great time to start.)
- Use internal social media. Allow employees to submit questions or comments whenever they want. And be sure to respond.
When managers and leaders facilitate respectful and honest conversations, they can strengthen the organization’s DEI efforts—and help employees feel heard.