By Rebekah Escala, Assistant Account Executive, RPG Raleigh

The recent, unjust killings of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have sparked uprisings across the world, bringing attention to an issue that has long been happening in the United States.

These events have also caused companies to take a look in the mirror and evaluate how they’re addressing diversity and inclusion on behalf of their respective organizations. Many companies have addressed the situation internally and externally, sharing words of solidarity on social media or donating money to racial justice organizations.

But just as the protests haven’t slowed down, neither has the pressure that employees are placing on organizations. Social media statements and donations are nice sentiments, but many employees are wondering how their companies will work to create long-term change.

Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Last week, the North Carolina Technology Association (NC TECH) held a virtual Diversity & Inclusion Summit, which was originally scheduled for early spring 2020. The Summit featured various keynote speakers and panel discussions that explored the importance of diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace. Though NC TECH CEO Brooks Raiford noted that it was clear that the past month made the Summit even more relevant, the discussions explored how D&I initiatives could add business value to the organization and how such strategies can help make all employees feel valued and supported. 

One panel in particular touched upon the importance of communications when implementing and managing a D&I strategy. This panel provided valuable takeaways not just for those working in the tech industry, but also for any professional in the communications field.

The panel included Lynne Garrison, CEO of Garrison Consulting; Danielle Pavliv, senior diversity and inclusion manager at SAS; Dinaz Taylor, vice president of global talent acquisition at LexisNexis; and Kurt Merriweather, vice president of strategy and transformation at Walk West. The panel was moderated by Stephanie Styons, an SVP in Racepoint’s Raleigh office.

Developing a D&I plan

Companies who wish to foster a diverse and inclusive environment must begin by developing a plan. Danielle explained that SAS began developing their D&I strategy by conducting focus groups with employees to get a sense of what they valued. SAS developed strategies based on these themes to ensure that their D&I plan aligned with employee values. 

Lynne also provided a few tips for developing an effective D&I plan, explaining that the plan should be integrated into the company’s vision and values. She also stated that all levels of the organization should be responsible for implementing the plan, even if a company has specific individuals in charge of D&I.

Communicating the value of D&I

Once a plan is in place, the next step is communicating the D&I strategy to employees, which often involves balancing differing reactions. Kurt noted that the varying reactions result from employees asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?” Top company leaders may be interested in the business value, while other employees will be interested to know how the plan will help them bring their true selves to work. Kurt explained that companies must create a narrative around the D&I plan and tailor the message based on the audience.

Good communication will also help tackle “diversity fatigue,” which Danielle described as when employees get tired of constantly hearing about an issue. Kurt pointed out that people get tired of hearing about an issue because they don’t fully understand its importance. Once someone understands the importance of an issue, they won’t get tired talking about it.

The importance of transparency

Even the most well-written and communicated corporate D&I plan will fail without trust from employees, and the panelists agreed that transparency builds the path to trust. As Lynne quoted, “There is no beauty without truth and there is no truth without transparency.”

Dinaz also echoed the importance of transparency, emphasizing that it begins at the top of the organization. Companies not only need to align their purpose and values, but they have to hold their leaders accountable against the goals they set. The panelists listed several ways to do this, such as having a dashboard within internal channels to track against specific goals or looking at applicant data and publicizing diversity gaps on the company website. Getting commitment from board members is also important, as those individuals can help hold a company accountable.

Danielle also mentioned that CEOs can sign CEO action pledge, which is the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Signing the pledge will help provide action-oriented goals for companies.

The bottom line

Overall, this panel showcased the key role that communicators have in facilitating D&I strategies. Whether you work for an organization that developed a D&I strategy years ago or one that is making a new commitment to diversity, we all must begin to have these uncomfortable conversations, and to continue having them. If organizations truly believe that employees are their biggest asset, then they must value and support them each day, and not just in the wake of a major event.

About the Author

Rebekah Escala

Rebekah Escala is an Assistant Account Executive out of RPG's Raleigh office. She focuses on social media, media relations, award and speaking programs, and crisis management for her client accounts.