Numerous studies from corporates and academics have shown that diversity – particularly female representation at senior levels – leads to better financial performance, especially when combined with a culture of inclusion and innovation. Over the last ten years, for some organisations this has produced a concerted effort to improve diversity of the workforce, expanding the issue from the purview of the HR department, tasked with ensuring compliance with discrimination laws, to include CSR leaders and individual champions. Many would argue, though, that it has taken more recent shareholder and government action for this issue to really be driven on to the agenda in the boardroom. In 2017, a number of US financial companies, under pressure from shareholder activism, released gender pay equity information for the first time. In June, the French Government introduced a 10-point action plan to end the wage gap between women and men – including a requirement to implement a common methodology for calculating wage gaps for any company over 50 people. Focus on this issue is the UK had been driven by the first deadline in April of this year, for companies to complete Government-mandated gender pay gap (GPG) reporting.
Whether it is fair to say business leaders have only truly focused on the diversity and inclusiveness of their companies because they have been forced to (I also know of many who would argue otherwise) this issue is now front and centre and will continue to be – particularly for historically male-dominated industries which are starting from a low base and in the UK at least, will face annual assessment of progress on diversity through GPG reports.
For those looking for ways to nurture a diverse and inclusive working environment, and/or to demonstrate the culture and proactivity of their company to the wider world, communications can and should play a pivotal role. Here are a few simple, but important, things to consider when communicating about diversity and inclusion (D&I).
No-one outside the business will believe in your focus on diversity if your employees don’t – so concentrate as much on your internal audience as your external. Communicating internally, showcasing policies and opportunities which promote diversity and therefore building awareness of those efforts within your business, will naturally help project that culture externally. It can, for example, be as simple as ensuring details on a mentoring programme are readily available to employees and that managers know how to promote it to those they manage. To really drive home the commitment to D&I, through internal newsletters, intranets, signage etc, give news about diversity and inclusion the same level of profile as other business-related news.
Your employees are your best spokespeople – both internally and externally. Showcasing positive personal stories, in the words of an employee, have more credibility than those responsible for CSR or D&I talking abstractly about what the business does to drive diversity. Stories which connect personal circumstances to business success can be particularly effective for demonstrating the culture of an organisation and how that supports the core business purpose of a company.
Your owned social media channels can be a positive tool for raising external awareness, particularly of longer-standing policies or programmes to encourage an inclusive and diverse workplace which might not carry enough ‘news’ weight with media outlets. Posting updates on events, policies, or personal stories which showcase diversity and inclusivity lets those who follow you see the culture of the company and the importance you place on this, alongside the other aspects of your business.
To drive an increased diversity in recruitment, you are likely to have to broaden your target communications channels. If there is a focus on increasing the number and seniority of women within the organisation, for example, then targeting women’s networking groups, return to work sites and female-targeted publications, can help to demonstrate that women should consider your organisation for employment and will be encouraged to thrive there. This requires buy-in from the business that coverage of this kind is as valuable as that from media you would traditionally target.
While recognising the challenges of access to diverse talent within some sectors, like many things in both professional and personal life, you will get out of these efforts what you put in. So, it’s essential that there is genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion for communications to be successful.