Businesses’ employee mix and leadership teams are not representative of the broad population around us, with many organisations not doing enough to make sure colleagues with varied and contrasting voices and experiences are seen and heard. But progress is being made, and internal comms professionals have a key role to help businesses reap the benefits of diversity and inclusion.

22nd August 2018

In the past few years, stories of the struggles and injustices faced by minorities and women the world over have hit the headlines like never before.

Whether it’s unequal pay, ingrained racism in public institutions, the #MeToo movement, or the lack of non-white Oscar winners, frustration at the failure of systems and organisations to foster inclusion, or meet their obligations regarding equality, is rarely out of the news.

In the business world, the link between diversity and performance is well established, and was confirmed again this year in a report published by McKinsey in January. It seems more diverse companies aren’t just doing the right thing – they also do a better job connecting with customers, and make smarter decisions. Plus their employees are more satisfied.

But despite the benefits, comparisons with a previous study from 2015 show that there has been slow progress on the representation of women and minorities in the workplace in the past three years.

Companies that don’t get on board soon will pay a penalty, McKinsey warns – a view shared by the PR and Communications Association, which says that organisations that don’t improve on diversity
“won’t last”.

An open-minded view of the world

So what are companies doing to improve diversity and inclusion (D&I), and what does it mean for internal comms professionals?

Property services firm JLL has been focusing on diversity and inclusion for some time, and recently took on Claire England as a diversity expert. She says: “Diversity and inclusion is fundamentally about getting people to change – to change how they view the world and be much more open-minded.

“I always talk about holding up your diversity lens. How will the message land with different audiences? If it doesn’t look right, let’s stop it and do something about that.”

Misa von Tunzelman, global marketing director, HR and sustainability, at JLL, and has been a diversity sponsor in the business for a number of years. She says: “A big part of what we needed to do when we started out was to raise awareness of the diversity agenda, and of unconscious bias, which is one of the big factors stopping organisations from becoming more inclusive.

“We had a number of internal events and roadshows. Our very first one was called It takes all sorts. We worked with a group of volunteers to stage an event where we put pick ‘n’ mix sweets bags on all the desks and invited people to the breakout area at lunchtime to fill the bags with sweets and talk about diversity and inclusion.”

This event ended up being a turning point, kicking off a range of D&I activities and groups being set up. It allowed staff to raise specific concerns and questions – including one who asked for a prayer room to be made available, which was quickly done.

The representation in your workforce of individuals from more than one national origin, ethnic background, religion, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation, and with different abilities or disabilities.


JLL’s LGBT+ network used an article on the company’s intranet and in e-newsletters to encourage its construction staff to take part in the #RainbowLaces campaign, where people wear rainbow-coloured laces in their workboots to show pride and solidarity with LGBT+ people. The company also produced an upbeat video to celebrate National Coming Out Day, which racked up nearly 6,000 views.

And the company’s black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) network initiated lunchtime thought leadership talks by speakers from ethnic minorities, which it promoted through newsletters, Yammer posts and posters. It also turned some of the talks into short podcasts – the first of which was the most played JLL podcast of the year.

While various minority groups have particular needs, the D&I agenda is also about making it more acceptable to be yourself generally, says Claire. “It’s about getting everyone to realise their points of difference and what value they bring to the party.

“You’re trying to get people to put themselves in another person’s shoes or look at it from a different perspective. If an email goes out to praise the success of some recent work and it’s all about white men, how would you feel as a woman if you’ve not been included? What you’re trying to do is engender empathy and understanding.”

Including diversity in all processes

The key thing for internal comms professionals, Misa says, is integrating thinking about diversity and inclusion through everything you do rather than seeing it as a project or a theme.

“I wouldn’t want a diversity section in the newsletter,” she says. “I’d want it to be a part of everything.”

Misa also warns about “diversity fatigue”. While it’s vital to keep up the momentum of communications, you also need to keep coming up with fresh ways to make people want to engage with the topic.

The signs are that it’s working at JLL: the company is seeing increases in the number of women at senior level, the number of BAME employees and general levels of engagement and retention among staff.


Inclusion: The act of involving a diverse workforce in your organisation and not discriminating against any individual because of their background, orientation or gender, and ensuring all employees are encouraged equally to reach their full potential.


Lucy Higginson, an independent communications expert, says communicating successfully about diversity and inclusion means “getting away from the idea that sending an email means you’ve engaged people”.

“A lot of leadership teams and executives see diversity and inclusion as something that’s come along to bug them, like GDPR,” says Lucy. “The first real hurdle is getting those people to understand that investing time in D&I will make your business more successful in the longer term, because you need that breadth of experience and perspective to deliver better for your clients. You really need to educate the decision-makers in an organisation as to why this is important, so you genuinely have their buy-in.”

From that point on, she says, it’s about embedding D&I into all communications. “It’s not something where you can send an email out and say, we’re now committed.”

Making comms more inclusive goes beyond just the words you use, says Lucy. It’s also about the way messages are delivered, and the context. For example, being flexible about the timing and format of meetings can make a big difference. People who have families to care for, or religious festivals to observe, or who have disabilities, may have requirements or preferences that you haven’t thought of.

Understanding the workforce

Alistair Drummond, a PR manager at facilities management services company Sodexo, works on external and internal comms, including around the gender pay gap, where the company stood out by publishing data six months earlier than required. Before joining Sodexo, Alistair says he “never even thought about diversity and inclusion as an issue in the workplace”, but the company’s commitment to it has prompted him to get involved.

He says: “If you are putting something together, it’s about being very mindful of your audience – think about who’s reading it. That’s really one of the keys of communications generally.”

And if you work in comms, D&I offers an incentive to build a deeper understanding of your colleagues. Alistair says: “I need to build relationships with people around the company, because I’m always asking for favours. Here’s an opportunity to do something I don’t get to do in my normal day job, and meet new people.”


Companies in the top quarter for ethnic and cultural diversity on their executive teams were 33 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability than those in the bottom quarter.
Source: Delivering through Diversity, McKinsey & Co., 2018

Misa von Tunzelman of JLL also sees ways that diversity and inclusion can make the comms role easier. “Comms professionals try to get staff to engage with company messages,” she says, “and diversity is a topic that can get you allies – if it is genuine, it can get people to read, engage with the company and feel very good about things the company is doing. There’s a real opportunity for comms people to use D&I as a vehicle for engagement in the organisation.”

But there are risks to be mitigated too. Hamid Senni, director of inclusion and diversity at London Business School, has been working in diversity and inclusion since before it was something that came up in people’s job titles.

Things have come a long way, he says. But he’s concerned there’s a lack of precision in how diversity and inclusion are understood and described, and he advises comms professionals to go “back to basics”.

“In finance, marketing or sales, communications are precise,” he says. “It’s like a science. They know exactly what they’re saying, every time. But when you come to the field of inclusion and diversity, it’s fuzzy. So communications are going to be understood differently by different people, which is the last thing you want. It’s the only field in the corporate world where there is such a grey area and such confusion.”

D&I or I&D?

It’s important to be clear about the meaning of the words, says Hamid, whose job title notably reverses the more common ordering of “diversity and inclusion”.

“Diversity means having a variety of people who are different in various ways,” he says. “Inclusion means including people in a group or structure, and letting them reach their full potential. In the context of businesses, it has to start with inclusion, which is about the culture of your organisation and how leaders embrace inclusive leadership, and supporting the best talent, without letting barriers get in the way. Diversity is one of the results of this.”

Hamid says he constantly sees the term gender used as if it’s synonymous with “women” – a mistake that puts organisations at risk of being seen to discriminate against white men who are in a position of management or leadership. He also sees organisations talk about diversity and inclusion efforts, which, in fact, go no further than what is required by law. That’s not about diversity or inclusion, he says, it’s about compliance. “People think they’re doing the right thing, when all they’re doing is creating the legal minimum level of inclusion, where people are free from bullying, intimidation or harassment. Lots of companies don’t see that distinction.”

This might sound like mere semantics, but Hamid warns that if the basics are neglected, things can quickly go wrong. “It just takes one person to make things really hard for your company,” he says. “And we’ve seen across the media individuals challenging the inclusion and diversity narratives of their organisation. And it’s always the comms and the legal team cleaning up that mess.”

Representing your target audience

Comms agency Golin is also taking steps to embed diversity and inclusion in everything it does. While Golin’s heartland is external PR, it also helps clients with internal comms and employee engagement, so it’s important for the company to practise what it preaches.

The company’s UK deputy managing director, Emily Luscombe, who chairs its diversity and inclusion committee, says that if Golin wants to advise clients on selling to the full breadth of society, “we need to be representative of the audiences they’re trying to talk to”.

As part of its efforts, Golin has come up with ways of being more inclusive of minorities, as well as ensuring that hiring practices help attract people with a wider mix of socioeconomic backgrounds and personal circumstances.

The company has mentored dozens of BAME graduates as part of a partnership with the Taylor Bennett Foundation. It also offers apprenticeships to school leavers, and returnships to people who’ve been out of work for a while – typically after having children or caring for elderly relatives. “Frequently, we offer them a permanent job,” Emily says, “because they’re brilliant and committed and loyal.”

Hiring from a wider pool

Golin advertises all jobs with the option of flexible working.

“It’s about looking at the core skills people can bring, rather than getting preoccupied by a gap on their CV, or family circumstances,” says Emily. “Of course, you should still hire on merit, but there are things you can do to make sure the pool you’re hiring from is as wide as possible.”

One particularly successful initiative is the company’s programme to help interns and junior staff with accommodation costs in London, which the company calls Golin B&B. This began in response to feedback that the cost of living in London was making it “impossible to work”, says Emily. “We could see that was having a significant impact on the diversity of our workforce,” she says. “In fact, it was probably the single biggest barrier to people being able to come and work for us.”


UK students who identify as BAME – but only eight per cent of company executives do.

Source: Delivering through Diversity, McKinsey & Co., 2018


On the back of Golin B&B, the company has begun to see more applications from graduates of a wider pool of universities outside the top few.

Golin’s focus on diversity, Emily says, “is enabling us to reach talent that our competitors’ minds are closed to, because they’re not finding the ways to get to them. And it has enabled us to potentially win business from clients who share our values.”

Emily believes that although many of the benefits of D&I initiatives will not be quantifiable, they’re no less real. “It builds loyalty and commitment from young people. We hope if we’ve given somebody a good leg up to start their career here, they might be willing to stay longer. Yes, it might cost you a bit of money but not as much as losing and retraining people.”

While diversity and inclusion demands investing time, money and attention, it pays off “in bucketloads”, Emily says. “At the end of the day, it’s about doing the right thing, but that right thing also makes the best commercial sense. It’s a win-win for business.” 


5 ways diversity can boost business

 Diverse organisations…

  • attract top talent – more diverse organisations draw their talent from a bigger pool, and their diversity makes them better able to attract and retain talent
  • make better decisions – more diverse and inclusive groups are less susceptible to bias and groupthink, and research suggests they end up making better decisions
  • understand their audiences – the more your organisation reflects the real world outside its doors, the better you’ll be able to serve the needs of your customers and stakeholders. More diverse groups are also more creative and more innovative
  • have happier employees – better management of diversity and inclusion improves employee satisfaction, collaboration and loyalty
  • earn great reputations – more diverse organisations earn the admiration and respect of the public – and with diversity high on the agenda of business and society, this will only become more true.

Source: Delivering through Diversity, McKinsey & Co., 2018

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