Fernando Serpa – Using Your Top Executives as Diversity and Inclusion Communicators

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

Today’s executives are being asked to communicate their organization’s diversity and inclusion strategy to more diverse audiences and in a variety of cultural settings. The key to success is a well briefed executive who is comfortable with the content, understands the business relevance of diversity and inclusion, and believes that they can deliver a powerful and motivational message.

Senior-level executives come with plenty of style and personality differences, as well as varying degrees of business priorities, engagement, cultural concerns, and acumen. When it comes to communicating corporate diversity and inclusion strategies, several consistent themes emerge.

Executives crave to:

  • Be seen as the leader of the initiative
  • Be in control and understood
  • Appear genuine and sincere, and
  • Always be allowed to “shine”

By making these things happen for the executives you support, you become an integral member of their inner circle and seen as not only a subject matter expert but as a valuable business resource and partner.

It takes time to gain that level of trust and certain building blocks that must be in place first. Here is a roadmap and some tips to consider when trying to accomplish these goals.

Building the foundation:

Before you go into an executive’s office with a diversity and inclusion communication plan or briefing points, step back and assess your current relationship with this person. Ask yourself these four important questions:

  1. Do you know the executive’s current business objectives and priorities? What business issues are keeping him/her up at night? Then ask, “How can getting the organization to embrace diversity and inclusion help the executive achieve these business objectives?”
  2. What is the executive’s “appetite” for diversity and inclusion and his or her communications style preferences? Once you know this, you can ask “How can you help him or her weave these themes in in a way that is genuine and that improves the message?”
  3. Have you previously demonstrated your skill as a diversity and inclusion subject matter expert? Do they know you? More importantly, do they see you as a business driver or a soft HR expense? “What are the two or three proof points you can share by way of background early in the conversation to solidify your position as a business focused Subject Matter Expert?”
  4. Do they understand the significance of the diversity and inclusion strategy? Do they see it as fluff or as a strategic business advantage? Develop a one-pager that gives the highlights and focuses on the benefit to the executive and to the business.

To ensure your relationship with the executive has a solid foundation for your relationship, schedule an introductory meeting to discuss:

  • The diversity and inclusion business case
  • What success looks like
  • The significance to the company, and
  • How the executive will take the lead to voice his or her support of the work

The idea is for each of you to walk away with a better understanding of the other person’s diversity, inclusion and business goals, answer any questions, and for you to discern how to add value to the diversity and inclusion message by leveraging the strengths of your executive.

Developing the Communication:
A successful diversity and inclusion initiative needs to have the united support of the top leaders of the organization. It is vital to have them speaking from the same talking points and using the same language to make the D&I message consistent, sustainable and meaningful to all employees.

If employees hear different D&I messages from different leaders, employees will not feel that the leadership is united and committed to the initiative and it loses credibility.

One way to ensure everyone is on the same page is to provide your executives with a thorough briefing outline (SEE SIDEBAR) of what you both agree each employee should take away from the message conveyed by their leaders. This will set the stage for cascading subsequent messages, goals and tactics needed for D&I to be successfully embedded in the organization’s culture.

It is important to align your diversity messages around business goals and priorities so that they sound familiar to what employees have already heard and that the D&I message is not standing alone without support. In other words, you want your D&I messages to facilitate business outcomes versus being perceived as a stand-alone effort.

By crafting these briefing points into a strong, concerted message for your executives you not only signal support from the top of the organization for your diversity and inclusion programs to your employees, you also allow your senior executives to take a personal and active interest in overseeing and guiding the success of diversity and inclusion under their watch.

Executive Communication Briefing Outline:

  1. Define Diversity & Inclusion and why it is critical to our business strategy
    • Is the D&I message and strategy aligned with business goals?
    • Why are we doing this now and what results do we expect?
  2. What are we measuring short-term and long-term?
    • Where are we today? Where do we need to go next?
    • Give tangible examples of what success looks like and what it takes to get there.
  3. Explain D&I as a business imperative:
    • How will D&I help us compete and better serve our customers?
    • How will D&I engage our employees and increase innovation, productivity and retention?
  4. (If your organization has Employee/Business Resource Groups)
    • Encourage active participation and support by senior leadership.
    • Our next generation of leaders are being developed in these groups, seek them out and encourage their development.
    • Allow these groups to tackle current business challenges and priorities and allow them to bring their perspectives to the issues.
  5. Executive’s expectations of their leaders:
    • Add D&I as a discussion point to every team meeting agenda
    • Identify opportunities for female and minority leadership and development within your teams.
    • Lead by taking action and being seen as a role model
    • Develop individual D&I Action Plans of what you will accomplish with your team.