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A few years back, ROI published some suggestions on D&I Communications Mistakes to watch out for, and the fundamentals covered still hold true today. However, given the increased focus on – and critical importance of – communicating with employees about diversity, equity and inclusion in today’s world, we’ve gathered up some fresh ideas.

Here is a roundup of helpful advice from our ROI consultants, about some of the diversity, equity and inclusion comms mistakes they are seeing now — including their tips for how to avoid them:

Mistake 1: Not scrutinizing language carefully or asking for input

Words definitely matter, so think carefully about what you write or say.  More specifically:

  • Be mindful of references to “you” which can feel less inclusive – for example “you may be feeling stress” — and instead opt for “we” or “all of us.” This is especially important for executive comms, where a leader is addressing employees.
  • Think of alternatives to heavily used designations such as BIPOC or People of Color, which tend to lump diverse populations together. When possible, be specific instead. Also be aware of sensitivity around other terminology, such as Latinx or AAPI, which are intended to represent a broad range of diverse populations.
  • It’s also important to test communication with diverse team members, and/or to ask employee representatives for preferred terms to be used in communication.

Mistake 2: Waiting for specific dates or heritage months to report out on actions or to recognize diverse populations and cultures

Employees prefer a steady stream of communication about actions being taking, rather than infrequent updates. Only providing updates on a popularly recognized date, such as during a heritage month or on an anniversary, can be viewed as performative.

While heritage months can be a great opportunity to celebrate, this should not be the only time it happens. Aim for regular, ongoing recognition of diverse people and cultures, and remember that not everyone may feel that they have an opportunity to be included in heritage month centered events.

Mistake 3: Not rooting your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion communications content in facts and history

Put simply: Cut the fluff. Take the opportunity to share the “why” by educating audience(s) about the impact history has had on marginalized groups and the significance of the day/month/initiative you’re communicating about.

Mistake 4: Forcing under-represented groups to champion the cause

While it’s critical to include marginalized or under-represented groups in developing DE&I strategies and solutions, avoid pushing them to hold the burden of speaking up or advocating for change – this is a communication role best performed by senior leaders.

When companies lean too heavily on marginalized groups without developing organizational processes and practices, DE&I becomes less strategic/company-wide and more about a problem for marginalized groups to solve.

Mistake 5: Focusing on one demographic

This one seems obvious but bears repeating. Diversity and inclusion isn’t just about women or Black employees. Consider all types of diversity: thought, religion, age, life experiences, sex/sexual orientation, special needs, class, personality, general worldview/opinions, socio-economic status, job function/department, etc.

Mistake 6: Inconsistent communication, or even worse – staying silent

It can be tempting to say nothing if you don’t have positive news to report or are uncertain about how a message will be received. And we understand that it’s not always easy to decide when to make a statement, send a companywide email or take a stance.

These decisions are often heavily debated by stakeholders, but to help guide the process consider weighing the following questions, as suggested by the Harvard Business Review:

  • Does addressing the issue align with your company’s strategy and values? 

  • Can you meaningfully influence the issue? 

  • Will your constituencies – including employees — agree with speaking out? 

Communicators also have an important role to play in advocating on behalf of employees and striving for consistency. The consistency with which a company communicates about issues related to DE&I leaves room for employees to make conclusions about what the employer values more, and in turn – how much their employer values them and sees them.

For instance, employees will notice and compare which communications channels are used to make a statement and/or who the spokesperson is and may make inferences about how much (or little) the company values that cause. Email vs. social media vs. public statement? CEO vs. business leader vs. ERG representative? A consistent approach can stop the comparisons of who gets more attention… which only detracts from the good the company is doing.

While determining how best to communicate can be challenging, it’s more important than ever for organizations and leaders to err on the side of speaking up rather than staying silent. Even if your approach isn’t perfect, an authentic message can do a lot of good for your organization and the communities you serve — while not communicating only invites speculation and risks fueling perceptions of uncaring.

Mistake 7: Being afraid of making mistakes

When a mistake is made – and it will happen – remember that it’s a sign of growth and always educational. Admit to the mistake, apologize and ask for grace.

Communicators and leaders should strive to be honest, transparent and human, and admit when they don’t know how to approach a sensitive issue or need help. Embracing a spirit of seeking to understand builds community and empathy.

Need help? Give us a call.

ROI has many years of experience partnering with organizations on their DE&I communication strategies, programs and initiatives. We would welcome the opportunity to brainstorm ideas for your latest challenge(s), so please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Contributors:

Janice Smith Collins

Janice is a Senior Vice President and Account Director, and leads ROI’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts.

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