Many companies are focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion. For some, it is a program they’ve established—perhaps for some, committees; but for others, it has seeped deeper into their collective cultures.

The discussion dived deeper in Part Two: “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Communication” with the Detroit chapters of International Association of Business Communicators and Public Relations Society of America.

Moderated by Mark S. Lee, President & CEO of The LEE Group, a recognized journalist and adjunct professor at Eastern Michigan University – Northwood and Madonna, the discussion included panelists:

  • Chad Lyons, General Motors, Manager Global Product Development Communications;
  • Daniel Miner, DTE Energy, Director, Corporate and Executive Communications;
  • Sharyl Smith, McClaren Health Care’s Southeast Michigan region, Regional VP, Marketing & Business Development.

Three key themes around diversity, equity and inclusion surfaced during the 60-minute panel discussion–embracing the uncomfortable, becoming fully ingrained and needing leadership buy-in.

Embrace the Uncomfortable

Perhaps spurred on by the stresses brought on by the pandemic and societal unrest, uncomfortable conversations are happening in the workplace and beyond.

“We’re finding that there are a lot more allies who want to be better, do better, do more,” said Sharyl Smith. “Historically, that’s not what we’ve heard. We’re at a point where it is critical to have the conversations.”

These conversations, as uncomfortable as they may be, allow for people to break free from preconceived ideas and into deeper understanding.

Daniel Miner pointed out the encouraging trend that employers are now encouraging talk around feelings—when most of us have moved through our careers being coached to separate personal feelings from our professional lives.

Likewise, Chad Lyons noted that these types of conversations allow for biases (the ones we all have within us) to be discovered and worked through. There are immense benefits when a company embraces diversity. To help facilitate conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion, DTE Energy has found success providing talking points, discussion guides and even games to help constructive conversations happen.

Be Fully Ingrained

“Companies can mandate diversity, but they have to cultivate inclusion.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion cannot simply be a slogan or a “thing” a company does in addition to the “actual” work being done. Conversations regarding those topics need to be ingrained in a company culture.

“Are we hiring diverse candidates?” Lyons asks. “Across the board at the company—it’s in our hiring, our retention, our daily behavior.”

Smith was transparent about the journey McClaren Health Care’s Southeast Michigan region has had in its efforts of fostering a culture of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, describing it as “slow and methodical.” Prior to 2020, the company had been building diversity committees and making small moves and celebrating more holidays; but in the past year, the company has made significant strides.

“We’ve not been in the ‘meat of the journey’ long, but we are committed. The conversations are bubbling up,” said Smith. “Our organization is in baby steps, but there is a tremendous amount of excitement to roll up our sleeves.”

Leadership Buy-In

Leadership needs to lead, consistently setting the tone for the organization.

All three panelists gave examples of the need that people need to feel safe to speak out. For McClaren, it isn’t a “fear of speaking out” that the organization has recently experienced. It’s this challenge of “cancel culture” and the expectation that dramatic action will take place immediately upon an issue being brought to light.

“You need to make sure there is a formal complaint process,” she said. “Growth around DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] will happen when leadership has relationship with managers and managers then have relationships with employees that allow for discussing issues that arise.

What’s Next?

The panelists offered a few recommendations for communicators for growing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in your organization.

  • If leadership isn’t already on board and working to create an inclusive workplace, talk to your leaders. Create a business case for them, if necessary.
  • Even where leaders are on board, help them articulate a goal. From that goal, develop a plan and follow it.
  • Embed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion into normal communications; don’t have a separate space or internal materials for it. Instead, let it become a part of every aspect of your company.
  • Do an employee engagement survey with questions around “I feel like I belong here.”

How is your company fostering a culture of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion? How can you as a communicator help leadership recognize gaps or celebrate achievements?