Empowerment: The role of communication


How communication can contribute to D&I management – five key findings:


The communication strategy should be aligned with the D&I strategy and is aimed at gaining acceptance and support for D&I initiatives at all organizational levels:

  1. Dialogue-based communication with employees at all levels is pivotal to
    - identify (further) action fields and improve D&I management,
    - to find new D&I-related stories that need to be told, and
    - to get feedback on the communication measures.
  2. Open, transparent, and empathetic leadership communication at all hierarchical levels is key to an inclusive culture. For this reason, it is crucial to bring the right people into leadership positions and to familiarize them with the concept of inclusive leadership.
  3. To generate enthusiasm and support for D&I, well-wrought success stories should be narrated. It is ultimately that stories of affected individuals can bring about change in attitudes and behaviors.
  4. Focusing on interpersonal communication to establish an inclusive work climate, through regular meetings, trainings on D&I issues and team-building activities.
  5. To convey D&I-related information, mediated communication e.g., article on the social intranet, Q&As about D&I or posters, works well. Besides the written form, video formats or podcasts are particularly suitable for this purpose.

“It is essential that all employees are respected in their individuality, because then if you manage to do that, you can also give them the security of knowing that ‘it’s okay to speak up!’

And that’s why, in my opinion, diversity management has a lot to do with corporate culture, and only open communication and leadership can create an inclusive culture.”

Julia Valsky, Head of Group Diversity Management, Erste Group Bank AG


How to communicate D&I internally: Strategic goals & channels

The D&I communications strategy should be authentic and aligned with the needs and desires of employees in terms of communications design, type, and channel:


Map - Hintergrundbild

Effective internal communication on D&I topics requires a strategy that is aligned with both corporate goals and the goals of D&I management.


To establish an inclusive organizational culture, interpersonal and (fully) mediated communication channels should be used, and their application should always be aligned with overall corporate communications.



Interpersonal communication and inclusion

The context in which interpersonal communication takes place influences the extent to which employees feel included:

  • It shows that employees who feel included to a lesser extent or not at all perceive a lack of formal interpersonal communication (e.g. workshops, corporate events) much more often than highly included individuals.
  • Informal interpersonal (peer) communication about D&I matters (e.g. chit-chat, joking) is an essential supporting element to engender a sense of inclusion.


Further topics: 


Key findings of the study

  • Potential: The study suggests that communication professionals see digital nudging as an interesting and promising method to increase the effectiveness of communication activities. Learning about digital nudging could be useful even if the method can’t be applied by communication professionals directly.
  • Application possibilities: Most interviewees hadn’t yet implemented digital nudging themselves. But the interviewees identified the following applications as particularly promising:
    • Supporting digital transformation
    • Encouraging learning and development as well as knowledge sharing
    • Increasing compliance behavior, especially regarding cybersecurity
    • Improving employees’ health and well-being

  • Challenges:  The applicability of digital nudging depends on whether the organization uses digital platforms that allow for customization, if there is leeway regarding corporate design, and whether ethical concerns can be sufficiently addressed.



The research project was led by Prof. Dr. Sabine Einwiller and Daniel Wolfgruber, University of Vienna. It is divided into four sub-studies:

  1. Literature review of scientific, management and organizational studies on diversity management and communication. Besides that, the research team analyzed literature from other fields like business ethics or sociology.
  2. Semi-structured interviews with 84 employees with and without various diversity characteristics in Germany and Austria. The aim was to investigate employees' experiences with D&I-related measures and communication and which organizational communication influences the inclusion/exclusion of employees.
  3. Online survey of 1,000 employees: The aim was to find out to what extent an organization's handling of and communication about D&I issues influence employees' identification with the organization. In addition, the research team investigated, how the behaviors of fellow employees change.  
  4. Semi-structured interviews with 20 D&I experts in Austria and Germany to draw a holistic picture of the status quo of D&I management: reasons for establishing D&I management, conception and implementation of communication measures as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Companies that participated in the semi-structured expert interviews – a selection:

Research team

The research project was conducted by Dr. Sabine Einwiller and Daniel Wolfgruber at the University of Vienna from 2020 to 2021:

  • Dr. Sabine Einwiller is the professor of Public Relation Research at the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna.
  • Daniel Wolfgruber, M.A. is a research associate in the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna.