5 WAYS TO SIMPLIFY
Your company, like many others, may be placing a new emphasis on Inclusion & Diversity. Internal communications can be a powerful tool for supporting and advancing the notion of inclusivity — but only if we’re willing to take a hard look at the ways we’ve habitually used language and images that may not be as inclusive as we’d like to think our culture is.
It’s also important to realize and accept that we may not get it right all the time. As a society, we’re experiencing rapid social change and a heightened awareness of past behavior that may have been thoughtless. Unfortunately, there’s no switch we can flip and suddenly be inclusive. It’s a process, and we need to be willing to engage in that process.
As you’re discussing your company’s approach to communications that are more inclusive, you might give some thought to these five suggestions:
SHOW DIVERSITY IN YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY
Before you address the specific words you choose, consider the
images you’re using to represent employees. It would be nice
to move beyond the cliché formula of group shots that include
a bunch of cis white males with the obligatory woman and
token person of color in the mix. Try using individual shots of
employees that represent diversity. For instance, when you need to
show one employee at a computer, try using a woman who’s using
a wheelchair, or a Sikh man in a turban or an employee who’s near
INTRODUCE THEY/THEM PRONOUNS
Consider using “they” as your default instead of “he” or “she”
when you’re talking about a theoretical employee, such as in
policy guides, open enrollment materials or other communications
that address the employee population in general. If you’ve been
making an effort to arbitrarily alternate between he/him and she/
her, you might find it cleaner and easier to stick with they/them.
And when you’re referring to a specific employee, don’t be shy
about asking them what pronouns they prefer.
BE SENSITIVE TO EVOLVING LANGUAGE
Do you refer to someone as paraplegic, or a person with
paraplegia? Should you capitalize the word Black? Cultivate
an awareness of changing norms and preferences, and have a
process for deciding when to incorporate them into your internal
communications. Words are powerful, and although one person
may not feel strongly about a certain reference, another could be
deeply offended. On the other hand, adapting to new preferences
can help employees feel seen and more comfortable bringing their
whole selves to work.
WEAVE INCLUSIVITY INTO EVERYTHING
If you have an I&D newsletter or a regular feature in your
employee publication or on your intranet devoted to diversity,
that’s great. But to truly be inclusive, you wouldn’t need to
provide I&D its own specific box. The goal would be to one day
look at the entire scope of internal communications and see a
reflection of true inclusivity. An important step along the journey
to that place is to bring an awareness of the need for inclusivity to
all your channels and content and begin making changes that bring
you closer to that goal.
WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK
What constitutes inclusivity is a dynamic state, and we’re a
long way from a world where none of our accepted language
makes anyone feel uncomfortable. Be willing to be corrected
or challenged, and open to the ongoing conversation of how we
can improve in this area. You might think about involving your
Employee Resource Groups, if you have them, and ask them for
guidance. The veterans group can help you with language around
PTSD and the LGBTQ+ group could have advice on speaking
about gender identity.