It is International Women’s Day and with this year’s campaign focusing on #BreakTheBias, inclusivity has never been more important.
However, creating a genuinely inclusive workplace must be driven by leadership. The level of action required and the commitment to change needs to come from those in charge.
The benefits with regards to a more diverse background are well documented. Despite the obvious fact that everyone deserves to be treated equally, businesses with a more diverse workforce outperform their counterparts financially and in terms of staff engagement.
Communication is a critical aspect of any inclusive organisation. Leaders need to engage with their staff at every level in a way that ensures everyone feels valued and part of the team.
But it isn’t always easy, so we’ve pulled together a few ideas on how best to build a more inclusive communication strategy.
Open and Authentic
People respect and respond well to openness and authenticity. At times you will want to protect your team from some of the challenges you face as an organisation. There will be some information you are duty-bound not to share, but you must trust and respect your team enough to share as much as possible with them.
This level of inclusive communication makes them feel part of the organisation, invested in its success, not just an employee.
The authenticity of your message is critical too. If you are delivering a companywide address, try not to read verbatim from a script, especially one that doesn’t seem as though you have written it.
You have a tone in your day-to-day communication, which is essential to retain. People will build up a level of trust in you and what you say to them. If they sense a change in that approach, if it becomes too formal or conversely too relaxed, it will make them question the message.
Find your style and stick to it.
Whether you are addressing the whole company or a smaller leadership team, having a clear understanding of the outcomes for your audience is crucial for inclusive communication.
If you create a habit of throwing out addresses and communications for no specific reason, to make sure people remember who you are, they will stop listening. People will turn off when you speak, expecting yet another pointless ramble that has very little impact on them.
Having a clear goal will help focus your communication and ensure it achieves what you want it to.
Inclusive communication is about knowing your team and engaging with them in a way that inspires them.
Suppose you have a big announcement for the organisation, and you have a stump speech that you roll out to every audience regardless of their position in the company. In that case, it will almost certainly be missed by over 50% of the company.
Creating an inclusive culture is about respecting and celebrating the differences that exist throughout your organisation. It is incumbent on you to adapt your message to the audience and find a way to use your authentic tone to engage with them.
So don’t pack your slide deck full of strategic financial levers for an address to your marketing team or spend the time talking through the creative brief for the latest campaign in your board report.
Know your audience and adapt your message to suit.
Inclusive communication doesn’t just happen. It’s not something that was absent yesterday and is now present today. It takes time and commitment.
You need to prepare for your communication, no matter who the audience is. Turning up to address the company and delivering off-the-cuff will almost certainly lead to mixed messages and clarification required. It will also appear to lack care, which will weaken your message to your audience.
Likewise, turning up to a meeting you are leading without forethought and planning around your communication will impact any feeling of inclusion.
Active listening is crucial to inclusive communication. However, it is not easy, particularly when everyone is incredibly busy and business needs to move at pace.
By its nature, communication is two-way, even a companywide address. So, you need to spend time actively listening to your team to improve your communication. Listening to and – most importantly – acting on what you hear is crucial to creating that feeling of inclusion.
Creating an inclusive organisation that encourages and welcomes input from every team member and respects people no matter their gender or ethnic background relies heavily on communication.
Find your authentic voice and adapt that style to suit your audience. Be prepared and take time to listen to your team when they talk, and you will go a long way to redressing some of the inequality that still plagues a number of our businesses.