Diversity and inclusion for communicators

browningyork Charity, General communication, Story-telling, University

When I saw a Diversity and Inclusion for Communicators course advertised by the Institute of Internal Communication a few months ago, I was really pleased. I knew this was an area I wanted to know more about, so I signed up straight away.

Drawing of lots of people of different shapes, colours etc to indicate a group of people together

Eighteen months ago I worked with the Diversity and Inclusion Deans at the University of Reading, providing advice on communication planning and getting messages across. More recently I have been working with two sight loss charities and learning a lot about accessibility.

These experiences have all contributed to a growing awareness and desire to learn how I can encourage diverse and inclusive cultures for my clients.

Internal communicators have a role to be the voice of employees and this should encompass everyone, particularly those who struggle to be heard or represented. This course presented an opportunity to find out more and apply that understanding more widely to my work.

The training
The course was run by Charlotte Butler from Altogether Different, a consultancy that specialises in building engagement in workplace diversity and inclusion amongst employees. Just what we needed to bring together our comms expertise with increased understanding!

There were 7 attendees, including me, and we came from a range of sectors. It’s always good to get other views and perspectives – in fact that’s at the core of why diversity and inclusion matters! And of course, we are all facing very similar challenges. People are people, whatever the sector.

Some of the things we wanted to learn how to address:
• Building leadership understanding and buy-in to the importance of an inclusive working environment
• Concerns, particularly amongst senior colleagues, over tokenism and appearing to simply tick boxes without any tangible benefit to the organisation or to individuals
• Setting up workplace networks effectively so that they contribute positively to the reality of everyday life in the workplace
• Getting language right so that it builds a positive culture, drives change and doesn’t cause (often inadvertent) offence

During the day we talked about making the business case, building empathy and taking actions that build real change.

My thoughts from the day
When I sat down to write this blog I thought I would start with some intro text about the course and then provide a bulleted list of ‘things I have learned’. But inclusion isn’t a linear thing and I realised that neither is my learning. So instead I am going to share some of the things that have stuck in my mind.

Different perspectives can teach us so many things, often things we didn’t know we didn’t’ know. We can remind ourselves to actively seek new views by asking ‘what have we missed? Who can give us a different view?’

Bias and fruit
Three mangoes on a tableUnconscious bias is seeing the world as you are, not as it is. To illustrate, Charlotte asked us to guess which is the most widely-consumed fruit in the world. We hazarded a guess at banana or orange – turns out it’s mango.

We could see straightway that although we had realised that eating a lot of apples in Europe would not be an indicator for the whole world, our answers were still affected by the fruit we eat ourselves. We had not actively considered what would be eaten in India or Botswana.

Being aware of the life we have lived and the experiences we have had and recognising that others might have different experiences is a first step to being inclusive.

Your real self
Many people who are different to ‘the (accepted) norm’ (whatever it is) find themselves covering up parts of who they are – pretending their partner is not the same sex as them; pretending they don’t follow a particular religion; pretending they watched the match last night instead of going to the ballet.

Hiding part of yourself is exhausting. If your energy is focussed there, you cannot perform to the best of your abilities, in your role at work or as a person. This is not good for you. Or for your organisation.

Stories build empathy
Building empathy helps us to understand what life is like for others. Even people who have privileges – and I’m well aware that I fall squarely into that category – have experienced situations where they felt judged or unfairly treated.

Get them to tell that story, remember how they felt and then imagine having to live your life feeling like that all or most of the time. This is a great way for them to really understand why inclusion matters.

I am going to leave you with a stat which sums up a lot of what I have said:

10% YouTube videos loaded upside down because designed by right-handed developers

Until next time
Sarah