Without a solid communication plan, you wouldn’t think of launching new initiatives into your organization.  And diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) isn’t just an initiative. It’s a culture change requiring intention, commitment, and effort to embed and sustain DEI into the fabric of the workplace.  

But even the best communication plans on paper can fall short when it comes to fully engaging employees in your journey—not only at the beginning but especially over time.  

He wasn’t a communication professional by trade, but perhaps Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw summed it up best: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” 

How can you get a greater return on your communication investment and help ensure that your DEI narrative is more than words on paper?  

Here are 3 strategies to consider: 

1. Embed the DEI narrative into the broader business and strategic messaging
A common challenge in sustaining DEI is that employees often perceive it as a one-off or stand-alone initiative. To that end, it has long been a best practice to include the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion in DEI communications. But the conversation shouldn’t stop there.
Your company’s overall strategic messaging, where appropriate, should also point to the value of DEI in accomplishing business objectives. If DEI-specific communications are the only place employees hear about DEI, overcoming that one-off perception is challenging. Proactively work closely with those who drive corporate communications to ensure that DEI concepts, principles, and strategies are consistently integrated into executive and organizational messaging.
2. Equip and Empower Messengers for Success
Many organizations rely on the cascading method of communication when introducing culture change, including DEI and related efforts. On paper, cascading makes sense—especially in larger companies that rely on upper and mid-level managers to keep teams informed. But when it comes to execution, it’s not always effective.
Why? Part of that answer has to do with inherent complexities: your messengers have different communication styles, varied team dynamics, heavy workloads, and new challenges with remote workers, to name a few. While you can’t control the complexities in their world, you can set your messengers up for success by providing clear expectations on how, when, and what to cascade. To equip your messengers, consider the following:

Create an easy-to-use Communications Toolkit

Offer a brief document with Key Messages and FAQs and a few PowerPoint slides they can use to support their team discussions. On the Notes page of the slides, be sure to include general talking points and suggestions to personalize for their teams.  Ensure that your Toolkit helps messengers communicate the link between DEI and the organization’s business goals, as well as thought-starters for linking the information to their function or team goals.  
If possible, and especially before a major campaign, get your messengers together virtually or in person and coach them on using the Toolkit. At the very least, include a one-pager upfront to help them understand how to use the Toolkit and make it relevant. 

Set a deadline for sharing information

Be clear on expectations, and don’t leave messengers guessing. A deadline helps them with planning and accountability and boosts a culture of inclusive communication because employees will generally receive information in the same time frame.

Provide a feedback loop and access to helpful materials

Ensure that your messengers know whom to contact if they have questions and precisely where to locate additional resources to support their team discussions (e.g., direct links to SharePoint, Intranet, etc.).

3. Engage Employees with Relevant Content and Consistency

Remember, information itself doesn’t equal communication (and, along those lines, sending an email doesn’t mean you’ve effectively communicated). 

Naturally, communicating the facts of DEI strategies and activities is essential, but sharing the “what” is rarely enough. Employees need to understand the “why” behind the information and “how” it relates to them. Bottom line: think about what’s on the employee’s mind, not just what’s on your mind as a DEI leader. Make the content real and relevant by using simple sound bites and examples to communicate key points. 

Another component of communication engagement is consistency. It’s natural to get consumed in managing DEI itself, but don’t lose sight of the power of ongoing communication when it comes to driving and sustaining momentum 

For example, let’s say you’ve just launched Employee Resource Groups with a splash communication campaign. Don’t stop there. At a minimum, create a 12-week plan for follow-up communication, and mid-way through that plan designate time to develop a longer-term program. Whether it’s a recurring column in a company newsletter or a DEI-owned update via email or Intranet, find what works best in your organization to keep DEI in front of employees on a regular basis.   

Work with DEI Consultants

With the above tips being just some of the strategies to elevate your DEI communications, your company may want to work with a DEI consultant. Consultant(s) can help you develop/refine, implement, and monitor your DEI strategies and communication plan. At Cockerham & Associates, our consultants help clients assess their situation, identify the root issues to ensure solutions are designed to solve the right problems, and help implement real, sustainable policy and culture change.