Building a Culture of Inclusivity: Effective internal communication for diversity, equity and inclusion

Diversity, equity and inclusion are topics that leaders and communicators are continuing to learn about and understand the role they can play within their organisations to create more inclusive cultures.

Last week Advita Patel, Business Internal Communications and Inclusion Strategist and Priya Bates, Internal Communication, Employee Engagement and Change Management Strategist published their first book ‘Building a Culture of Inclusivity: Effective internal communication for diversity, equity and inclusion’.

I’ve just received my copy and I’m looking forward to reading it and thought I would ask some questions to Advita and Priya for the All Things IC blog. If you want to buy a copy of their book, we’ve shared a discount code at the end of this article.

Building a Culture of Inclusivity: Interview with the authors. Priya Bates and Advita Patel. Authors of Building a Culture of Inclusivity

Why is internal communication crucial for building a culture of inclusivity within organisations?

Photo of Advita Patel leaning on wall cropped wearing a purple jacket.

Photo of Advita Patel

Advita: That’s a great question. I genuinely believe that internal communication plays a significant role in shaping culture and fostering connections among colleagues – this is key to building inclusion. A big part of our role is to ensure that all voices are heard, and we have to do this by facilitating dialogue across all levels of the organisation. To do this, we must have inclusion at the front of our minds. If our colleagues don’t feel like they belong, they won’t feel connected to the organisation vision, mission or strategy, leading to disengagement and poor experiences.

Priya: I agree, and the truth is we all want to feel included and connected at work. The quote that you are known for is, “what happens on the inside is reflected on the outside”. We can’t turn strategies into results and brand promises into employee and customer experiences if we don’t engage employees with the communication they need to be aware, understand, act and believe.

 

Photo of Priya Bates wearing a red top

Photo of Priya Bates

What are some key challenges internal communication leaders face in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Priya: The biggest challenge is that DEI is both professional and personal. It’s one of these areas where you can’t easily separate the organization’s intentions to what it may mean for you personally – positive or negative. We see this with executive, HR and internal communication teams that are themselves struggling with representation.

Advita: I think bias is one of the critical challenges. Often the teams we work in and support are not diverse, so we will automatically have issues breaking down silos and ensuring that messages resonate with all colleagues, not just those who belong to the dominant culture.

We also have to remember that we are working with human beings (and we can be complex), so we often deal with resistance to change – which isn’t unusual. People are often uncomfortable with changing something that has benefitted them for several years. And when you’re talking about a group of people you can’t identify with or don’t want to identify with, it can make change more challenging to establish. In our book, we share our thoughts about treating inclusion as a change programme as, in our opinion, that’s what it can be like.

But even though internal communication isn’t directly responsible for building an inclusive culture, we definitely are accountable for guiding and advising our leaders on the best messaging to share. We must create a sense of psychological safety where all colleagues, regardless of background or level, feel comfortable expressing their opinions and sharing their experiences. Without this, we can’t change anything.

How does your book, “Building a Culture of Inclusivity,” provide practical guidance for internal communication leaders?

Advita: Our book provides internal communication leaders with actionable strategies and real-life examples to navigate the intricate landscape of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We offer practical frameworks for crafting inclusive messages, fostering meaningful employee engagement, and building trust among diverse teams and leaders. We also share personal examples and case studies, which we hope equip readers to drive positive change within their organisations.

Priya: Yes, and the book is full of research. In fact, we learned a lot ourselves during the book writing experience. Each chapter ends with questions you can ask about yourself and your organization to help guide your decisions and advice.

Can you share your top tip for internal communication leaders to enhance communication practices and foster inclusivity?

Advita: There are many, but active listening and curiosity are critical in this work. I know we say it many times, but we must encourage open dialogue to gain different perspectives. I know it can be challenging for some to start a conversation as they don’t want to come across as rude or ignorant, but there are different ways you can approach curiosity without causing harm. In the book, we share the SPARK framework.

Seek out information and find evidence that counterargues your opinion or thoughts. Doing this will help address any biases you may have.

Powerful questions can help you dig deeper into expanding your understanding of your point of view.

Adjust your mindset to get into the habit of asking yourself some exploratory questions.

Revise your thinking about your willingness to learn from others who are different from you and be open to new thoughts and ideas. This will help you build stronger connections.

Kindness is critical when you’re exploring curiosity. You will make mistakes, and there will be viewpoints you disagree with. But it’s essential to raise your points respectfully without accusation – especially if you don’t know the context.

Finally, we must take action once people have shared. One of the biggest causes of mistrust is not doing what you said you would. Asking underrepresented people to divulge how they are feeling and then not doing anything to support them is worse than not asking them in the first place.

How can internal communication leaders drive buy-in and support from senior leadership for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives?

Priya: The first chapter in the book focuses on the DEI-Why. It helps readers understand the business outcomes that will resonate with leaders and provides data that helps support the business case. Like Simon Sinek says, “We need to understand why before we can explain how.”

Advita: Exactly. You have to talk the language of the leaders – what resonates with them? Is it finances? Is it commercial acumen? Then talk about numbers, from how centring inclusion can reduce sickness to attract great talent or how inclusion can increase market share as a diverse workforce can help gain deeper insights into target markets.

Priya and I often say that we are business leaders with communication expertise. Using data and research to showcase the positive impact of inclusivity on employee engagement, innovation, and overall business performance can make a huge impact.

Thanks Advita and Priya for answering our questions. Make sure to add the book to your reading list. You can use the discount code ALLTHINGSIC20 to get 20% off their book and any Kogan Page book when ordering directly on koganpage.com.

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Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 13 June 2023.

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