Communicating inclusiveness adds internal, external value

It would be hard to find a company that doesn't appreciate the importance of a solid employee communications strategy in theory.

It would be hard to find a company that doesn't appreciate the importance of a solid employee communications strategy in theory.

After all, employees can have just as much, if not more, of an impact on reputation than the media, consumers, or even shareholders. And so, many companies work hard to keep employees informed, engaged, and feeling valued.

But even for those that are dedicating significant resources to employee communications, it can still be a challenge when dealing with employees of different backgrounds - whether it's age, gender, race, or sexual orientation. And even when an atmosphere of inclusiveness is in place and technically enforced by senior management, it's often not successfully communicated to employees.

This week's feature (see page 12) looks at Ernst & Young's work in creating an internal network dedicated to LGBT inclusiveness, something that did not exist formally until a few years ago. Not only did E&Y support a small group of employees who expressed interest in forming this group, but it has since incorporated messages of LGBT inclusiveness into its business practices - from having senior leadership present at events supporting the LGBT community to ensuring that executives include the words "sexual orientation" when talking about diversity.

This strategy has boosted E&Y's external reputation within the LGBT community, as it has earned a 100% rating on the Human Rights Campaign's Equality Index for three straight years. It has also positioned the company as a thought leader on the subject of LGBT inclusiveness. But most important, it has likely established E&Y as an inclusive workplace among the audience that matters most: its employees. And that type of reputation can only help in recruitment and retention, which are always top of mind for any company.

Communications and marketing professionals recognize the value of tailoring messages to specific demographics - whether it's McDonald's targeting moms or Procter & Gamble engaging African-American women. Yet that mentality often doesn't carry over into a company's employee communications efforts. And just as a one-size-fits-all message won't help a company develop brand loyalty with a certain demographic, using that type of messaging to engage employees will likely have unfavorable results.

Certainly there are companies who are dedicating significant resources to engaging all of their employees with targeted messaging, but those are not the norm. Many times, it may come down to a lack of a dedicated employee communications staff, but that shouldn't be an excuse. While such programs can originate in the communications department, as E&Y illustrates, they can also spring up from the employees themselves.

In terms of investment, spreading a message of inclusiveness can be as simple as having senior executives present at certain events, tweaking existing language, or aligning with third-party organizations. In the end, a slight shift in mentality is all that's really needed. And for those companies that not only embrace inclusiveness, but also can communicate it effectively to their employees, the benefits can be immeasurable.

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