Folks, It’s Time To Talk About How We Communicate In 2022

Folks, It’s Time To Talk About How We Communicate In 2022

In this guest post, Emily Lang (main photo), senior communications consultant at Think Communications, offers some easy tips to modernise your interoffice comms…

We’ve come a long way with diversity and inclusion. Parental leave programs are expanding to more realistically reflect family dynamics, the gender pay gap is narrowing (albeit slowly), a Land Acknowledgement is being more readily integrated into corporate culture, and organisations are increasingly being made accountable for inequities.

However, when you look at the bigger picture, there is still work to be done, a lot of it. Just last month (February 2022) an Australian Christian school attempted to get parents to sign a new enrolment contract that would see students expelled because of their gender identity.

Discrimination is a complex and widespread issue. People can face discrimination for a multitude of reasons – race, religion, sexual preference, age, gender, having a disability – and while legislation exists (e.g. Age Discrimination Act 2004, Disability Discrimination Act 1992 Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986), it isn’t enough to alter our deeply ingrained and internalised attitudes and behaviours.

Creating real and lasting change takes education and time. Unconscious bias is a confronting reality that many of us are (yep, you guessed it) not aware of. So how do we take a step back and firstly acknowledge the deeply ingrained prejudices in our psyche? Casual racism slips out in everyday conversations, especially among Aussies, and if you are to challenge or call someone out, they often jump straight to the defence or worse, suggest people just need to harden up.

So how can we collectively do better? How can we learn from our past actions and integrate inclusivity into our organisations?

Before diving into some tangible actions, I need to preface that I am by no means an expert in Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). I’m a white female who grew up in Australia in a stable and financially secure family. My passion for this topic comes from eight years of experience in corporate communications throughout this pivotal period of global change. Personally, I’ve witnessed small changes in how we communicate like not addressing employees as ‘guys’ and working on wide-scale organisational projects such as launching an Anti-Racism Framework for the British Columbia Institute of Technology. These projects have taught me a lot. But there is still so much to learn.

Here are six ways to encourage inclusivity in your organisation.

1. It’s time to stop calling your employees ‘guys’

To kick things off, let’s start with a relatively easy one, changing the way we address employees. Chances are we’ve all been guilty of using ‘guys’ when speaking to our

colleagues. It’s pretty well ingrained into our vocabulary and while it may seem trivial in the scheme of things, it can reinforce feelings of women being the minority within the workplace.

“Some people do not feel excluded by the word ‘guys’, but some do,” agrees Lisa Annese, CEO of Diversity Council Australia. “The word ‘guys’ can be used to mean both men and women — but not for everybody.” Lisa Annese, CEO of Diversity Council Australia

While it may take some practice to kick the habit, once you find an alternative you’ll be well on your way. Some alternatives are, team, folks, all and everyone.

2. Add pronouns to your email signature, Microsoft Teams, Zoom etc

While this may seem like a small thing, for some people this is a big deal and not having to correct people – or pretend you are okay with being addressed incorrectly – using the correct pronoun can go an extremely long way. It shows you accept others for how they want to be seen.

“Using the right pronouns to refer to a person can be one of the easiest ways to show them respect and help them to affirm themselves. It is also one of the best ways to promote an inclusive atmosphere within your organisation.” ACON Pride Training

Simply add your pronouns to your email signature, Zoom handle, and any other place where you communicate with your team members. It’s really that simple. If you want to take it a step further, consider asking employees to share their pronouns when introducing themself in a meeting with new team members or in a session with colleagues you don’t normally work with.

3. Learn how to pronounce your colleague’s names

This is especially important to keep in mind for colleagues who may be from a different country or ethnicity and have experienced this for much of their life. You have a couple of options, the first being obvious – just ask. But if you don’t feel comfortable or are looking to make pronunciation easier on a wider scale, another approach can be to add pronunciations to your employee directory.

“Being called by our names is powerful. It encourages a sense of visibility, connection and belonging.” Jane Bryan, University of Warwick

4. Incorporate a Land Acknowledgement into your meetings and company events

“Incorporating welcoming and acknowledgement protocols into official meetings and events recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners of land and shows respect.” Reconciliation Australia

If you don’t know what land you live and work on it’s time to find out. AIATSIS has pulled together some excellent resources to help you out, and while it may require some research and investigatory work on your behalf, it will be worth it.

5. Celebrating cultural moments

Now, this is a tricky one, and more often than not, actions miss the mark. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Speaker and Consultant, Kim Clark, puts it perfectly – As communicators, “Let’s focus on our core competency to design messaging, channels and employee engagement.”

So, what does celebrating cultural moments look like? It means moving away from tokenist celebrations – simply doing a social post to show your solidarity or hosting a morning tea isn’t enough. A good starting point is to form a committee or working group comprised of a diverse range of employees from across your organisation to start the conversation and direct future initiatives. Some larger organisations have a dedicated DEI employee or team, however, if that’s not the case, you may be pleasantly surprised by the willingness of your employees to contribute and participate in an employee-led group.

6. Integrate D&I into your communications strategy

To make meaningful change and communicate with your employees authentically, D&I should be integrated into your overall communications strategy. Evaluate your existing employee channels to update language to be inclusive and non-denominational. Update your organisation’s employee forms to include all gender options rather than just ‘male’ and ‘female’. Ensure your LBGTQI+ employees feel valued and supported all year round, not just during Pride Week. Or perhaps it’s time to rebrand the annual Christmas party to a holiday party?

I’ve just scraped the surface of what we, as communication professionals, can do to foster a more inclusive workplace. More education, patience, and uncomfortable conversations will need to happen within your organisation, and among your peers, to make a difference. But it will be worth it.

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Emily Lang Think Communications

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