You can put rainbow lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig
Is the corporate communication profession doing enough to encourage inclusion and diversity?
This was the title of an event it was our privilege to host last week.
Numerous studies, such as this one from the Harvard Business Review show how companies with employees from diverse age groups, ethnic and social backgrounds, physical abilities, gender and sexual orientation are more likely to outperform their industry competitors. They are more likely to be able to anticipate trends, adapt to change and innovate.
Yet we know that many of our clients struggle to replicate the diversity of the population within their organisations. And we recognise that we at Comms Leaders have a part to play as gatekeepers for talent within the communications profession.
So we brought together a panel of experts to discuss the issues and provide us with examples of good diversity and inclusion in their workplaces.
Our panellists were:
- Charlotte Butler, Founder of Altogether Different, our chair
- Matthew Gale, Head of Firmwide Internal Communications at Deloitte
- Angie Silverston, Inclusion and Diversity Specialist and Consultant with 30% Club
- Jennifer Ogunleye, Media Officer at City of London Corporation
- Jenny Nabben, Executive coach and Training Director at The Academy
- Justine Stevenson, Head of Group Internal Communication at London Stock Exchange Group
Charlotte is the founder of Altogether Different which helps workplaces become more inclusive through creative workshops which bring diversity topics to life. She chaired the discussion, guiding the panellists through their introductions and fielding questions from the audience.
Matt shared Deloitte’s vision of inclusion and respect – respecting people whoever they are for the value they bring, the end result of which is diversity. He also shared eye-opening research that 61% of people ‘cover’ themselves in the workplace, meaning they cover up or change an aspect of themselves in order to better fit in. Not only does this take away authenticity and create distractions, it’s also mentally exhausting for the individual concerned. Deloitte encourages every individual to take responsibility for creating an inclusive environment.
Jenny has been working with women over 50 and sees society’s deeply entrenched systems as being responsible for the challenges women face in the workplace. These not only have an impact on women’s wealth, but also on women’s health.
Jennifer was shocked to find out at the beginning of her career that she’s unlikely ever to earn as much as her male counterparts. She was told there were limits to what she’d be able to achieve and was advised how to wear her hair to ‘get ahead’. She now chairs several staff networks at the City of London Corporation and mentors young girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, to overcome obstacles and seize opportunities.
Angi brought a different perspective to the discussion, being an HR professional specialising in inclusion and diversity for large global organisations. As a member of the 30% Club’s ‘balancing the pyramid’ team, she is looking at ways to address gender imbalance at all levels of the executive pipeline – not just at board level. Angi shared research into the different ways that men and women are managed at work and the impact that has on success. While men are generally given a variety of challenging projects at work, women are micromanaged – which prevents them from progressing as quickly as men. She is now working with suppliers who think creatively about where to find talent from a more diverse pool.
A robust Q&A session followed and time ran out before the questions did.
A few key points were raised during the event which are worth considering when looking at diversity and inclusion in your own organisation:
- It is imperative that businesses embrace diversity, to ensure the broadest range of experiences and perspectives. This will help them to adapt to new market conditions and anticipate the needs of customers.
- ‘Inclusion starts with I’ – everyone should take responsibility for inclusion, from the shop floor to the boardroom.
- Internal communication can hold up a mirror to and be the conscience of an organisation. However, strong leadership is needed to demonstrate what a company and its culture stands for.
- Communicators are the guardians of the language of an organisation. Using jargon or sarcasm can be very alienating to some people.
- At some stage in our lives we have all been in a minority group – whether that’s as a non-drinker, a Muslim, or being considerably younger than your peers. We all have the capacity for empathy.
- If diversity is treated as tokenism or a tick box exercise, employees will ‘cover’ themselves and authenticity will be lost. As one delegate said ‘you can put rainbow lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig’.
Comms Leaders is looking at our own policies as a result of last week’s discussion. We are consulting with clients on a range of options, including anonymising CVs to remove names, dates and other personal information, to level the playing field for applicants.
We will also be creating a code of practice, outlining our intentions and expectations concerning inclusivity, which we hope our clients will voluntarily sign up to.
It’s rare to attend an event like this where the audience was so engaged and energised about such an important topic.
If you’d like to see the tweets from the event, please search for #inclusivecomms.