How Communication Drives Inclusion
This post is reprinted from Catalyst, the official publication of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).
For years, companies have steadily increased funding for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. It makes good business sense. Research shows that a more diverse workforce can increase productivity, foster happier employees, improve customer experience and push forward innovation.
Yet a 2021 Josh Bersin report suggests that companies still struggle to realize those benefits. According to the report, “Roughly 80% of companies are just going through the motions and not holding themselves accountable.”
Too often, organizations treat DEI as a compliance issue to be checked off. As a result, DEI initiatives remain mired in an awareness stage. Trainers conduct programs with managers about recruiting and hiring diverse candidates. Staff participate in mandatory sessions that define or explain diversity. Leaders make it a priority without setting goals.
Awareness only starts the journey toward realizing a truly inclusive culture. To get there, organizations must focus on helping individuals engage with each other. This requires communication.
Diversity is a fact. People are different, and they can be grouped together according to myriad traits like race, age, ethnicity, gender, religion, socioeconomic status and more.
Inclusion, however, is a choice. One made by individuals.
We view the world through a narrow lens shaped by our unique set of cultural influences and life experiences. We must first seek to study and understand ourselves and, in doing so, become more intentional about how we engage with others.
We can seek out, identify and explore differences — not as barriers, but as opportunities to learn. Inclusion requires empathy, and empathy blooms when we ask questions and actively listen. When we assume the best about others. When we communicate with a sense of curiosity. When we take a purposeful approach to interpersonal communication.
Building an inclusive environment starts today, where each of us sits. In fact, it must start with us, for diversity goals related to hiring, promotion or procurement take time, and they can change. And if they are indeed achieved, then what?
We cannot create inclusion goals. True inclusion is a mindset collectively embraced by individuals. Through communication, each person plays a role in building an inclusive environment that ultimately benefits ourselves, others and our organizations.
As communication professionals, we can model the behavior. We can research and understand our own communication styles and the cultural influences that have shaped our views of the world. We can move out of our comfort zone. We can recognize that there are some experiences we cannot possibly understand because we have not lived them. We can seek out the perspectives of those who have.
We can explore the differences around us, uncover the similarities that exist and build bridges among our colleagues.
With communication, we can help individuals feel heard, valued and welcome. Just as we all hope to feel.