Having an authentic, proactive internal DEIJ strategy has never been more important
Earnest and consistent DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice) strategies – executed by dedicated communicators – are critical to align organizational values, build belonging and to cultivate workplace culture.
Executive leaders are finding themselves compelled to embrace DEIJ initiatives and take a stand on social issues. But this has to be executed strategically as opposition can always be lurking around the corner.
In recent years, during and around June – the month of Pride and Juneteenth celebrations – backlash has been rampant against large Fortune organizations. This tension is leaving companies unsure of how to implement strategies that will support social movements without facing major repercussions. Now more than ever, corporations are finding that creating true change is a matter of outlasting the initial turmoil of crisis and holding your ground on promised principles and core values.
If DEIJ commitment isn’t already one of your top priorities as a leader, here’s why you should reconsider.
Why DEIJ strategy should be a staple in every strategic communications plan
Speaking out and taking action in support of your organization’s principles is so much more than a line item in your marketing strategy – this messaging sets the tone for the relationship you create between your company, valued workforce and the communities you serve.
Employees are increasingly aware of whether an organization’s values align with their own. If there’s misalignment, or insincere application, the relationship can tarnish quickly. Additionally, response to DEIJ initiatives increases when employees help inform the strategies, typically through surveys, forums and/or employee resource groups (ERGs).
When thoughtfully executed and courageously supported, DEIJ commitment allows organizations to represent a diverse, innovative population. Being a highly inclusive company can also result in business benefits, not just societal vigilance:
“Promoting and highlighting DEI efforts helps employees feel safe, respected, and more connected.” This support leads to increased productivity, retention and hitting financial target goals by up to 120% (Forbes).
What if you don’t know what to say?
It is important to understand that not putting out a message… is putting out a message. Your stakeholders are impacted and emotionally connected to social causes; therefore, not having a consistent DEIJ strategy in place can reflect a lack of empathy. Without a proactive and clear strategy, organization-wide messaging consensus, and an earnest commitment to shared values, external parties can take control of your narrative.
The voice of your DEIJ strategy dictates efficacy
As a responsible organization committed to taking action on social issues, it is important that these messages come from leaders in a position to make a difference. Significant change can occur, but your audience needs to know that messages are not simply coming from a place of societal pressure or, worse yet, marketing opportunism. Standing with diverse groups is not a promotional activity or something done to check a box or “save face.” Be mindful of potential pitfalls with insincere, uncommitted statements.
Leaders need to focus on long-term change as well as their individual and organization-wide contribution to getting there. In discussing how a large corporation should address these potentially sensitive communication issues, Thomas Reidy, an experienced Communications Director for GE Capital, reminds thought leaders to stay unified and consistent when speaking on behalf of their organization. He says power comes from a “regular, strong, informed voice that demonstrates that they are truly in charge of a company’s direction.”
Walking the tightrope
Speaking out on the topics of social justice does not come without the risk of alienating some, although silence carries a loftier reputation-management burden.
When choosing to speak out, the greatest risk lies in:
- Failure to deliver the right message
- Poor message execution
Backlash is most frequently seen with a “performative” and/or opportunistic approach. Statements that simply check boxes but lack depth and action fall flat – even when intentions are good.
Language around these high-stakes issues should be amplified and handled with authenticity, transparency and empathy. Diversity, equity, inclusion and justice are everyone’s business and responsibility – rely on your skilled communicators to elevate this message and reflect your organization’s values alignment.
No doubt, executive leaders are under increasing pressure to take a stand on social issues. This needs to be approached with a collaborative, co-created strategy that aligns with and reflects your organization’s core values. Communication is your greatest tool in the pursuit of transparency: I urge leaders to not shy from emotion, but to instead embrace authenticity and work with professional communicators to capture that voice.
Our world is constantly changing and transforming, and the rules for “proper” internal communication are being redefined each and every day.
C-suite and people leaders need to stay current, know what is affecting your people and take a stand to ensure your team knows they are respected and protected. Internal change sets the foundation for systemic transformation.