10 ways your comms team can help improve diversity and equality

Responsibility for improving diversity isn’t just the remit of the HR function. The comms team also has an important role to play, says Becky Slack
Equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) is not just a moral issue. It’s a business one. Countless reports demonstrate the more diverse an organisation, the more successful it is – both in terms of financial security, reputation and more loyal staff. And as we have all seen in the media, it’s an issue of increasing national and global prominence thanks to initiatives such as gender pay gap reporting and #MeToo, among others.

Responsibility for improving diversity within an organisation isn’t just the remit of the HR function. The comms team also has an important role to play. Here’s 10 ways how.

1. Start by getting your own house in order

How diverse is the comms team? People from diverse backgrounds are likely to have different lived and professional experiences from their non-minority counterparts, even if they hold similar qualifications – perspectives that will be particularly valuable if you intend to engage with diverse audiences.

2. Diverse recruitment begins with the advert

Think carefully about where you advertise – for instance, you can use BAME and LGBT outlets to widen your reach, and make sure you use the right sort of language. I know of one organisation that was struggling to attract women, which on reviewing its job description, realised it said applicants must have 10 years’ continual experience – making it immediately exclusionary to women who had taken time out to have children.

3. Use inclusive language throughout

When was the last time you checked your content, to make sure you were not inadvertently excluding people through the wording? Inclusive language is free from words, phrases or tones that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped or discriminatory views of particular people or groups. These include gender-specific terms or bias like regularly describing women as nurturing and men as strong.

A content audit can be a useful exercise here, as too can a check-list that is consulted prior to publication. Better still, ask people from different backgrounds to review it for you. They may pick up on words and phrases that you miss.

4. Review the images you use

In the same way you should check your words for bias, your images should also be reviewed to ensure they are representative, not only of the people your organisation serves, but also of wider society. Girlguiding has done a great job here – not only on its own website, but in the guidance that it provides to its branches.

5. Who represents you?

From your key spokespeople, through to the people who blog for you and the stories you include on your newsletter, a diverse set of voices running throughout all of your comms, internal and external, is key. Don’t forget that diversity is not a single issue so consider all areas, including gender, age, class, race, disability, sexuality etc.

6. Engage and build relationships with diverse partners

Much support, encouragement and learning can be found within the organisations and networks associated with different demographic groups. These will differ depending on the sector you work in, but will include LGBT networks, BAME recruitment companies, disability campaign groups, etc. Follow them on social media, engage with their content, ask for advice, and maybe even explore ways of working together. For example, Macmillan Cancer Support is working with the LGBT Foundation to better address the needs of LGBT people living with cancer.

7. Work closely with your marketing team

How diverse are your marketing campaigns? There is often a massive lack of representation of people from BAME communities and under-represented groups. This visual bias on the internet and in advertising has led people such as Selma Nicholls to co-found the #sowhiteproject, which is an attempt normalise diverse imagery through real photography. Make sure you’re not part of the problem.

8. Pitch to a diverse media

When was the last time you pitched a story to The Voice, DIVA, or Saga? There are publications and websites out there aimed at serving the communities you might want to include more, so make sure these publications feature in your media strategy, alongside mainstream titles.

9. Understand your internal culture

Ticking boxes is one thing. Having a culture where people feel included is another. Do your staff and other stakeholders feel valued and supported? Do under-represented groups feel doors are open or closed to them? Are there senior leaders who could act as role models, champions and sponsors?

Your internal comms team can play an important part in helping understand the answers to these questions and more, all of which will provide valuable insight into just how inclusive your organisation is. The charity Touchstone is an example of an organisation leading the way. In 2016, it was awarded a number one position in the Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers list.

10. Build it into your strategy

Make ED&I part of your comms strategy by thinking about how to reach a diverse audience and by including relevant targets, linked to all the issues listed above. Make sure the plan is reviewed annually, perhaps staff appraisals could include a related KPI, and importantly, that you have buy-in from senior leadership. Progress can often be hindered by factors such as unconscious bias, which can impact on decision-making, or simple issues such as events being held at times that don’t work for the people you want to attend. Take the time to view all your comms through the eyes of your stakeholders and amend accordingly.

Becky Slack is the editorial director of LEAD and managing director of Slack Communications, which helps charities, social enterprises and mission-led entrepreneurs get noticed. This article is an adaptation of one that originally appeared on Charity Comms, the membership network for communications professionals working in UK charities