Senior executives need to set the tone for all communications within their corporations. Terms like “woke” and “cancel culture” are being tossed around, but we believe “inclusive” and “culturally aware” are better choices.
Internal memos, corporate policies, corporate videos, virtual meetings, face-to-face interactions, and corporate social media posts all impact your employees. A word or phrase that seems appropriate to you may offend employees based on their race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or life experiences. Some of these terms should be obvious but sensitivity around others may be new to you.
It's time to ask questions and learn to navigate the tricky waters of corporate communications in 2021. An in-house communications team or communications consultants are in a good position to review language and policies that may need to be updated. The review should be repeated at regular intervals.
- Does your company have a policy on employees wearing clothing that promotes a cause or political candidate?
- Do you have policies in place on tattoos, piercings or hair that may now be out of tune with society?
- Do managers know which pronoun their direct-reports prefer?
- Is there a safe space for employees to express themselves without fear of recrimination?
- Does your corporation take a position on societal issues ?
- Are employees encouraged to offer suggestions on how to improve the workplace climate?
- Do all your employees know your policies on hate speech and bullying?
Sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia and other discrimination can take place in any workplace--from direct attacks to microaggressions. Your HR manager may be the first person to hear when it occurs. How management responds to the incidents says a lot about a company's corporate culture.
It's important to remember that internal communications often become external communications when emails, texts, and even the content of meetings are shared by employees on social media or with traditional media. A good rule is to assume this will happen and speak and act as you would in a public setting.
No one is perfect. When a manager says or does something that offends, regardless of their intention, it's important to address it quickly--letting employees know you're working on a solution and that their input is welcome.
You won't create a workplace utopia by being culturally aware and inclusive in your communications, but your employees may feel more ownership in their jobs and that is always a good thing.
Regardless of the size of your company or organization, your executive team needs to be willing to learn new and better ways of communicating with employees. You might consider a private podcast instead of the usual email blast. Or try a bottom-up approach on a new project. No single approach is right for every business. What is most important is that no employee feels marginalized by your corporate language or policies.
Check out our new workshop on Inclusive Corporate Communications.