Based on our experiences working with many companies over the years, IronStrike has seen many push to do a better job communicating and market to diverse audiences. We’re grateful that we’ve played a role in supporting these companies with workplace diversity, specifically through internal communications. How can your organization do more to ensure its internal communications reflect the kind of workforce you want to attract and retain? How do you effectively reach a diverse workforce?
Show me the numbers
The truth of diversity is backed by data. Lots of it. Our workforces are becoming more diverse. Let’s look at just millennials. According to a Census Bureau report, millennials are the largest generation in American history. And just over 44 percent classify themselves as ethnic (not white). The fact that we have to even state that makes us cringe a bit, as it indirectly implies that “white” is the majority or the norm, which is precisely the mindset we want to discourage. The report also states that for the first time in American history, a majority of children under the age of five were classified as being part of a minority ethnic group.
What’s more? According to a study done by the Center for American Progress, people of color make up 36 percent of the labor force while 64 percent are non-Hispanic white. Who are we referring to when we think of people of color? Hispanic, African-American and Asian—and people who don’t identify in any of these racial or ethnic categories. Also, census data tell us that by 2050 there will be no racial or ethnic majority in our country.
Diversity is more than just color or ethnic background
Diversity goes far beyond someone’s ethnic heritage or race. It includes gender and sexual orientation, too. According to the Williams Institute’s data, gay and transgender workers make up 6.28 percent of the workforce today, having higher representation in the private sector than in the public sector. And let’s not forget women in the workplace. While many younger women today take it for granted that they rub elbows with women at work, 70 years ago women represented just 29 percent of the workforce. In 2017, that number was 57 percent. Statistically speaking, that’s a big jump!
And probably the most overlooked population is people with disabilities. According to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, people with disabilities represent nearly 21 percent of the workforce in 2018. Interestingly, while many minority groups have seen their employment situation improve since the 1980s, labor force participation for persons with disabilities in the U.S. has decreased. Rounding out all the above are factors such as age and socio-economic background.
Finally, a subset of workplace diversity is cognitive diversity. It’s something you might not have heard of before. A Harvard Business Review article shared that cognitively diverse teams have more creative outcomes than non-cognitively diverse ones. In fact, the HBR article goes so far to say that this type of diversity is more indicative of successful team outcomes than other diversity factors like ethnicity and gender. This is based on HBR’s own experience versus statistical research. Yet it’s noteworthy.
Now that we know the stats, let’s look at how this all translates to the workplace.
The case for supporting workplace diversity
It might sound like a silly question, but “why care about diversity?” Why support diversity through communications that affirm a diverse workforce? There are many reasons.
First, workplace diversity is not going away. And that’s a good thing! You don’t want to miss out on talent that can help your organization thrive. You want to be ahead of the curve. According to a report by McKinsey, more diverse companies are better able to win top talent. This better talent can lead to better solutions that improve customer relations, employee satisfaction and other business decisions. So why is that?
According to Roy Y.J. Chua of the Singapore Management University, teams that include workers from different backgrounds and experiences have more creative ideas and methods of solving problems. This includes customer-related issues. A graduate of Columbia Business School, Chua’s research focuses on exploring how best to make this type of collaboration happen. He says the more your network includes individuals from different cultural backgrounds, the more you will be creatively stimulated by different ideas and perspectives and (we surmise) come to different conclusions than you would have otherwise.
The McKinsey research also suggests that other types of workplace diversity such as age, sexual orientation and global mindsets, are also likely to bring some level of competitive advantage to companies. And all of that leads to a never-ending cycle of increasing returns. The research found that of 366 public companies analyzed, those in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above national industry mediums. So, aside from being the right thing to do, workplace diversity can show you the money too!
Take a good look in the mirror
Recently, a client mentioned that if she didn’t see herself reflected in an organization’s collateral materials, she assumed the organization wasn’t for her. She’s African-American, and she said that she just doesn’t think organizations spend enough time “speaking” to her and others like her.
We agree. And communicators and marketers are in the perfect spot to influence this. But before you taken any steps in this direction, we encourage you to check your own unconscious biases at the door. An unconscious bias is your background, personal experiences, societal stereotypes and cultural context that impact your decisions and actions without you realizing. Implicit or unconscious bias happens when our brains make incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realizing we are even doing it.
This ties back to Chua’s research. He studies many things around diversity, and one of those is metacognition. Metacognition refers to a person’s reflective thinking about his or her cultural assumptions. Which, according to Chua, has a strong effect on how well we all collaborate across cultures.
One suggestion to overcoming unconscious bias is to ensure your social circles are diverse. Why? Because this will carry over into the workplace. Chua says that people who have a culturally diverse social network tend to have higher cultural metacognition. In other words, interacting with people from different cultures on a daily basis causes you to question your assumptions more. Are they accurate? Checking such assumptions is a good thing. It prevents us from looking like an a$@!
The good news is that cultural metacognition isn’t static. It’s just a habit that can be built over time. And if you don’t already have a culturally diverse social network, Chua recommends consciously seeking out new cultural experiences.
A final suggestion is to make note of our interactions with people from another culture. By taking stock of this, we can adjust our behaviors for future interactions.
Our point in saying all this is if we are counseling others on diversity communications, we should be walking the walk when it comes to workplace diversity.
How communications can reflect/support workplace diversity
Once you’ve reflected upon your own biases, it’s time to consider your communications efforts in the workplace. Here are some practical tips to guide your internal communications efforts.
Counsel your leadership
Whether you work for a large organization or small one, there’s a good chance it could always improve its workforce diversity efforts. Now’s not the time to shy away from providing counsel. As an internal or corporate communicator, it’s part of your job to counsel leadership on realities of the business. One of which is inclusiveness. After all, as the stats show, diversity matters to the bottom line. Here are just a few practices you can put into place to encourage inclusiveness and positively impact your business.
- To support recruitment and retention: Encourage leadership to form employer resource groups (ERGs). These groups should focus on the needs of specific employee audiences as well as educate the wider organization on topics of workplace diversity. Also, if not already in place, recommend training on cultural sensitivity and recognizing unconscious bias. Another idea is to form partnerships. For example, a manufacturing company supporting a scholarship program to encourage African-Americans to enter engineering careers.
- To support procurement: Suggest using suppliers that are diverse and/or are committed to diversity.
- To support customer service: Hire call center teams who represent the diversity in our society. And hire teams that are bi-lingual.
Finally, is your leadership monotone? According to the McKinsey research, 97 percent of U.S. companies fail to have senior leadership teams that reflect the country’s ethnic labor force. Counsel your leadership to push diversity in the C-suite, too.
Write for inclusivity
Seems innocent enough, right? You’re writing a memo to your boss about a new work team that’s being formed. You review your draft. “If we get an engineer on the project team, we’ll need to make sure he can fit it into the schedule.” Not all engineers are men, of course, so you edit that sentence! It’s easy to overlook simple biases. But, we do it. Often.
Other examples include assuming that all significant others are wives or husbands, marriage involves both a husband and a wife, and a stay-at-home parent must be a mom. On this last item, while parents who don’t work outside the home are mostly mothers, fathers represent a growing share of all at-home parents—16 percent in 2012. Roughly a quarter of these stay-at-home fathers report that they’re home mainly because they cannot find a job. But nearly as many—21 percent—say the main reason they stay home is to care for their family.
When we write without inclusivity, we make people feel less important than others. It can also make people feel not as valued, biased against, excluded and even offended. Take time to write with the diversity of your workforce in mind.
Ensure visual imagery is inclusive
Simply put, make sure that your photos, videos and other imagery reflect your workforce. We’re not saying you should force the issue and include every ethnic group represented within your organization or customer base. Just be authentic and strike a happy medium.
Consider how audiences will respond
Always, always consider timing of events, announcements and other activities. Pew Research Center estimates 5.3 million Jewish people live in the U.S., so scheduling a major event or announcement on a Jewish holiday may not be a good idea. Similarly, African-American populations—notably those living in medically underserved communities—do not as easily trust medical professionals. So, hosting an open house where they can bring a family member or friends will go over better than a private event where they’re encouraged to come alone.
At the end of the day, inclusivity in your communications is all about good audience segmentation and common courtesy. If companies want to prosper and retain their business advantage, they should focus on having a diverse workforce and policies, procedures and communications in place that support it. Do you have a story to share about workplace diversity and inclusion through communications? We’d love to hear from you.