How communications can take active steps to boost DE&I

At Ragan’s Future of Communications Conference, we spoke with a panel of DE&I leaders about the best ways to cultivate a diverse and welcoming organization.

Create a diverse, welcoming environment.

When your workplace allows employees to be their authentic selves, you’re much more likely to establish a thriving, vibrant culture. But there’s more to it than just outlining the tenets of positive work culture in your organizational mission statement — developing a workplace that focuses on diversity and inclusion takes lots of active listening. At Ragan’s Future of Communications Conference earlier this month, we spoke with Aray Rivera, senior manager of internal communications at J. Crew, Suzy An, justice, equity, diversity and inclusion lead at Porter Novelli and Emily Graham, chief equity and impact officer at Omnicom to learn how they make a material difference in the workplace through diversity and equity initiatives.

Focusing on psychological safety

Psychological safety is broadly defined, within an employment context, as the ability to share one’s own true thoughts and feelings at work with no fear of retribution or negative impacts. But it’s important to note that each might have their own specific understanding of what constitutes psychological safety.

“Psychological safety is nuanced,” said Graham. “Our role is to define what it means and create guidelines around it. It shouldn’t be a buzzword, but something that’s embraced.

An continued to describe a few ways that actions that communicators can take to craft these guidelines.

“There are a few ways we can create this safety,” she said. “It looks and sounds like inclusive language and actions, to me. We should be setting the tone and should be role models for inclusivity with actions such as the proper use of pronouns, providing closed captioning for employees that need it and so on.”

Active listening for positive culture 

An also placed an emphasis on active listening. “This can help us respond from a place of empathy and cultural humility,” she said.

It’s easy to say that you’re listening to your employees’ needs, but another thing entirely to do so in an active fashion. If an organization is doing it right, active listening can help weed out negative trends and culture that could be bubbling up in a company.

“Active listening is a hard skill to hone,” explained An.” Many leaders feel that they listen, but they listen to react rather than listening to understand. If you’re really listening, it’ll change the dynamics of the relationship. Train your leaders and managers to understand how to use empathy and inclusive leadership skills to keep your employees happy and engaged.”

Rivera also touched on how companies can increase their active listening efforts through outreach to employees.

“One way to keep each other accountable is by using surveys as our north star,” he said. “It’s all about understanding how employees feel about how their leadership listens. They want to see their leaders take a stand and know that they’re being heard by higher-ups. It all starts by creating a culture where it feels good coming to work.”

Measuring progress

The panelists also touched on the importance of being able to measure their listening efforts in order to tell how successful their DE&I programs are going.

“Surveys and focus groups are important –- it’s good to really get out there and have touchpoints with people,” added Rivera.” We want to know how they feel about the business and also what they know about it in terms of initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion.”

An also shared how pulse surveys can help communicators gain a snapshot of how employees are feeling.

“Pulse surveys are important to get a sense of engagement,” she said, but there’s also concern about survey fatigue, and there are other ways to engage in listening sessions. Use a mix of both quantitative and qualitative methods to get the full picture. If people are happy, they’re going to recommend your organization. If they’re not, they’re going to tell people.”

The discussion wrapped up with Graham pointing to the fact that measuring belonging is difficult, and we need to listen well to find out what employees need.

“Belonging is hard to measure,” she said. “The more people who tell me or my leadership team that they didn’t belong and now they do means that belonging is shifting.”

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night. 


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