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Why communicators should care about diversity & inclusion

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Diversity and inclusion are matters that concern us all – above all communicators. That’s why the Academic Society for Management & Communication teamed up with the University of Vienna to carry out a research project on a widely neglected aspects: the power of corporate communications for driving diversity & inclusion. Below we explain why diversity & inclusion pay off. We will devote a subsequent article to the special role of communications.

Diversity & inclusion – more than buzz words

It struck us how many posts about diversity and inclusion have been published in recent months, be it to mark International Diversity Day, the #ChoosetoChallenge movement, or #BlackLivesMatter. Treating everyone equally and fostering an inclusive culture have gained ground and are hopefully here to stay.

To be on common ground, let’s start with a quick definition of diversity and inclusion:

  • Diversity refers to the reflection of various social realities in an organization’s workforce based on observable and non-observable characteristics. They include aspects such as gender identity, ethnicity and nationality, social background, age, religion/worldview, physical/mental abilities, and sexual orientation.
  • Inclusion refers to employees’ perception that their unique contribution to the company is appreciated and their full participation encouraged. It thus creates a sense of belonging (Mor Barak, 2015).

To make the difference even clearer: The goal of diversity in an organization is to bring about a diverse workforce representing different backgrounds. But it’s not sufficient just to have a diverse workforce. Corporations must also give all employees a sense of belonging. They must make them feel valued, offer them equal opportunities to have a say, enable them all to contribute to the organization’s success. In a nutshell, corporations need to create an inclusive culture. Only then can they reap the benefits of a diverse workforce.

While diversity management is about counting heads, an INCLUSIVE work environment is about making heads count. (Winters, 2014)

Worth the effort? Economic and social reasons for introducing D&I management

Besides the existing legal requirements for D&I, there are two main reasons for introducing D&I management:

  1. The business case stresses the economic benefits from a diverse workforce, such as increased creativity and innovative power as well as adapting to a diverse clientele. Research findings indicate that D&I management can increase sales revenue, invite more customers, and generate a greater market share (Herring, 2009).
  2.  The justice case emphasizes the social responsibility of companies to treat all (prospective) employees equally and to enable them to develop their full potential.

Even though the dichotomy of business and justice is often emphasized, our findings clearly show that the two cases are interdependent: Economic rationales and resources pave the way for a company’s involvement in social justice issues.

Business versus justice case

D&I creates loyalty and identification with the corporation

In order to investigate what other positive effects D&I management can have, the researchers conducted an online survey among 1,000 employees in Germany and Austria. Testing various psychological and behavioral variables, two correlations stood out:

  • D&I management has to be authentic: An inclusive work environment may encourage employees to identify with their organization. Whereas 56% of the 1,000 respondents stated they perceived a pro-diversity climate at work, only 38% said they identified with their organization. One missing link is authenticity. Only if employees are convinced that their employer is genuinely serious about D&I will this raise the likelihood of identification with their employer. The authenticity of D&I measures is especially scrutinized by employees with a migration background.
  •  Inclusion encourages greater loyalty to the employer: Likewise, employees who feel included in their organization show a higher level of identification and are more loyal to their employer. However, only 38% stated that they felt (quite) included while only 53% described themselves as (quite) loyal to their employer. Both figures could be increased by effective D&I management. Interestingly, older employees (55+) are more likely to reward a high level of inclusion with more proactive behavior than their younger colleagues.
Research project "Let's talk about diversity & inclusion"

Six ingredients for setting up D&I management successfully

  1. Ensure the overt commitment of the management board.
  2. Develop a D&I strategy that’s aligned with the corporate strategy. Define a D&I vision. It’s advisable to listen to employees at all hierarchical levels and external stakeholders during this development process in order to identify areas that require the most attention.
  3. Set up a team responsible for D&I management. They map out the D&I strategy, lay down rules of engagement, promote competence development, and allocate resources such as money, time, and (barrier-free) infrastructure to executive personnel and the workforce.
  4. Develop fair HR measures regarding recruitment and promotion, competence development, and barrier-free infrastructures (spatial and digital). This can also involve introducing a diversity-sensitive corporate language, trust-based working hours, quota policies, and many more activities. It’s best to field-test these measures before a company-wide rollout.
  5. Implement inclusive leadership as a key factor in fostering an inclusive culture.
  6. Offer leaders and employees resources so that they can plan and carry out their own D&I-related projects and events.

» Unfortunately, diversity management is often left to the HR department. We don’t think that’s good. It needs to be at the very top.«

Stephan Dirschl, Charta der Vielfalt

About the research project

How can organizations successfully implement D&I management? And what role can corporate communications play? A research team from the University of Vienna funded by the Academic Society for Management & Communication conducted an extensive study in 2020/2021 to shed light on these matters. They surveyed 1000 employees among others and conducted interviews with 20 D&I experts.