Communicating for equity: A look back and forward

It’s time for companies to show what they’ve done to deliver on promises and build a more inclusive environment for employees and communities says FleishmanHillard's Adrianne Smith.

Communicating for equity: A look back and forward

In 2020, the world shifted. We experienced one of the largest social justice movements of our time. Following the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Jacob Blake, Belly Mujinga and regrettably many others, there was an awakening. A realization for many occurred that we are not all treated as equals and historically have not been, and this must end.

Corporations are being scrutinized intensely for their commitment to DEI. Equity and inclusion must be embedded in how they approach all issues, from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the future of work.

Role of the communicator
The role of communicators is to open peoples’ minds and encourage them to think differently and incorporate DEI into their everyday operations and lives.

The work and role of DEI practitioners in the communications industry has been elevated to organization change agents. Our key priority is to help reshape and redefine the cultural and financial landscape of forward-focused companies. The communicator or storyteller is central to driving DEI. It’s through storytelling that we create human connections that build trust across identities and backgrounds and learn valuable lessons that stay with us for a lifetime.

Top-of-mind pointers for inclusivity
Advancing DEI is not a box-ticking exercise; it’s about people and their experiences. Humility and honest reflection must be at the center of leaders’ communications to show what they’ve learned and how it’s changed the way they lead. Companies must be sensitive to what people have endured and consider the time, emotional support and resources that employees may need. 

Pay particular attention to the following:

The intersectionality of identities. Identity is not one-dimensional, and many people identify themselves with multiple cultural and social groups. This impacts experiences, challenges and the support people need. 

The mental health toll. Those who already struggle with mental-health challenges have found it even more difficult during the pandemic and constant civil unrest. This is especially the case for Black and brown people, members of the LGBTQ+ community and for those living with disabilities. For those whose identities intersect among these groups, the impact and challenges are magnified. 

The inequitable impact of COVID-19. The pandemic has laid bare deep global inequities in healthcare access and outcomes. These inequities can be driven by the intersections of race, sexual orientation and geography.

Prioritize the recruitment and advancement of diverse talent into leadership. In 2021, elevating talent with diverse experiences, ensuring equitable pay, will set the course for future progress. This should take place across business units and functions so that diverse representation can do what it’s meant to do: drive strong business outcomes while fueling the aspirations of future leaders.

Commit to progress, not perfection. The problems we are seeking to solve are complex and, in nearly all cases, deeply entrenched in the ways our economies and society functions. There will be challenges in maintaining momentum. Yet we must remain steadfast in the pursuit of progress rather than be paralyzed by the inability to achieve perfection.

Be relentless. It’s time for companies to show what they’ve done to deliver on promises and build a more inclusive environment for employees and communities. It’s time to be the change we want to see.

Adrianne Smith is the chief diversity and inclusion officer at FleishmanHillard.

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