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March 2023

Moving from commitment to action in diversity, equity and inclusion

The focus on DE&I has been a long time coming, yet many firms struggle to bring their commitment to life. First off, people need to be able to see themselves in your company. That means articulating your approach to DE&I and bringing it to life in ways that appeal broadly and meaningfully. Companies need to tailor support to each individual to ensure they can excel. Companies should be honest about their progress to inclusion – it’s a journey. And diversity, equity and inclusion should be something that’s woven through everything you do from your visual identity to how you serve your customers.
1. Be distinctive, not different

Articulating your commitment to DE&I should express how you embrace difference, not why you are different. People aren’t necessarily looking for difference, rather a place where they can fit in. That means articulating your commitment in a way that appeals to every strand.

A commitment to DE&I isn’t just the right thing to do. It makes good business sense too.

DE&I commitments should give a clear indication of what to expect. There are different ways to communicate this. Your DE&I commitment could provide a distinctive take on the corporate brand and values where words and visuals are closely related, albeit there are differences. Your commitment could closely align to your employer brand. The message could be the same or different. Either way your commitment to DE&I is a fundamental ingredient of your employer brand and reason to be believed. Or, you could have one message that applies everywhere, for all audiences. A message that links to your purpose, expresses the role you play in the world, and indicates to employees what they will expect from you as an employer.

All approaches work – neither one is better than the other. What’s important is to articulate a message that seeks to appeal to anyone.

2. Empower your people to tell their real stories

Sharing authentic stories connects people together

When we think of people and diversity, quite often we only see the very surface of what makes a person individual, be that their skin colour, gender, age, race and so on. All of which are seen purely on the outside. No two people are the same; thinking styles, beliefs, life experiences and many other attributes are all distinctive to that person. We often hear clients say they are not there yet in terms of having a diverse workforce, but that diversity is usually focusing on what’s happening on the outside, rather than the inside. By shining a light on the people you have and empowering them to tell their stories in their unique way, not only communicates how diverse everyone is, but it creates a sense of belonging by being individual and you. It also allows people to be their unique selves and not grouped into DE&I stands that are not the right fit for some people.

Visualising the stories can be as impactful as the stories themselves, create a look and feel that feels unique to each story, but holds together visually as one inclusive creative expression.

Sharing authentic stories connects people together, being heard for all our differences helps us feel seen and once those stories are united give us the equity to feel included.

Sharing authentic stories connects people together

3. Support makes it sincere

Articulating your approach to DE&I is one thing. Evidencing your story with actions is another. If you can’t evidence your message don’t say anything, otherwise it risks becoming virtue signalling. Hiring diverse talent and saying you’re diverse doesn’t make you inclusive. It’s the workplace experience that shapes how included people feel.

From a communications perspective, this is about focusing on the support provided that enables everyone to perform at their best, and this is the difference between equity and equality. We’re not all equal and don’t all need the same support. Different people need different support to do what they need to do.

Support can be many things, like mentoring and reverse mentoring programmes for black and ethnic minority groups; mental health enablement programmes; simple gestures like leaders and colleagues wearing rainbow lanyards that could help members of the LGBT+ community feel accepted; or ally programmes that seek to create more inclusive workplaces and remove unconscious bias. Actions create support, but support needs to be genuine and the most significant support is how leaders behave and create inclusive environments.

4. Being honest makes you more human

Showing vulnerability in communication and in life brings people closer to one another. It shows you are human, that nobody knows everything, we all make mistakes and with DE&I we’re all on a journey and on a learning curve all the time. Communicating you are not there yet or there is still work to do, is not a weakness, it’s a strength, and can do far more good, than bad.

You need to create the right balance in your messaging and hero what you have achieved, but when it comes to communicating the work that is still to be done, elevate that message, don’t hide it away. The fact you are still learning, listening and adapting your approach shows you really understand how DE&I never stops evolving and never will as we change as individuals and a society.

By the very nature of not hiding information and telling people the real situation, we gain trust from people both internally and externally due to being truthful and transparent.

In a world where we are constantly subjected to fake news and overtly glamourised social media posts, being honest is refreshing and elevates your human values.

5. Create inclusion, don’t bolt on

A DE&I expression should elevate your people

By the very nature of what we are trying to communicate, our DE&I expression should not feel like a bolt on to our core brand. It may seem obvious, but your DE&I brand expression should feel seamlessly connected to your overarching brand, creating an inclusive visual and verbal narrative.

However, there is also a balance to be met, your core brand will probably not express all your DE&I ambitions and therefore you should retain connection to the core brand but create a step change that enables you to clearly articulate those ambitions.

Due to the ever changing landscape that is DE&I, your visual expression should have enough flex to feel that it is changing and evolving and not standing still. A DE&I expression should elevate your people, celebrate individuality, and give you a platform to express your DE&I ambitions for the now and the future. It should also connect with your core brand.

A DE&I expression should elevate your people

6. Be for customers as well as employees

A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion should be a governing thought, whether for employees or for customers.

Consumer brands are starting to introduce inclusive design training for their marketers and partner agencies to remove unconscious bias from advertising.

Companies are starting to use their skills, data and technology to help their clients become more inclusive, or to design new technologies that seek to stop unconscious bias and negative behaviour.

Some companies have very public facing campaigns to end discrimination and champion greater social equality.

And some companies are bringing DE&I front and centre into their brand advertising, bridging the gap between employee and customer communications, with employees appearing as themselves alongside actors to reinforce their culture and commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Moving from commitment to action in diversity, equity and inclusion is a journey that involves many things. There’s no silver bullet or any one thing that can be done. It’s about making a clear and distinctive commitment, bringing it to life and supporting it. It’s about being genuine and acknowledging where you are on that journey. It’s about making it part of who you, how you look and what you do for employees and customers alike.


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