Consider the following scenario: you are eating lunch at work when a colleague asks whether you’ve heard about a new initiative that is being launched. The project is directly related to your scope of work, but the news is a complete surprise to you. You go to your manager and ask about this, and they offer a small apology for not informing you.
This is certainly not the first time this has occurred. How do you feel? What could have been done to prevent this?
Moving from accidental exclusion to values-driven inclusion
Many people would agree that knowledge is power. Then, by extension, this means that those who are informed and apprised of organizational updates wield more power than those who aren’t in the know. Without proactive plans to share updates with employees, leaders may share information in reactive ways (e.g., in response to a question a staff person asks) or to select individuals with whom they feel closeness and trust.
Whether or not it is the intention of the organization, the disparate ways in which knowledge is shared can be read and experienced as exclusive and inequitable. It can also feel painful to those who are consistently not given access to this kind of information.
The Unrealized Impact Report is an important study of staff experience, workplace habits, and demographics across the education sector related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). One of the report’s findings is directly related to communications:
“Effective, authentic communication is a critical ingredient for change. Effective communication was more highly correlated with perceptions of equity and inclusion than any of the other diversity, equity, and inclusion practices. Staff also perceive that their organizations are more diverse if there is a culture of open communication. The trends related to communications effectiveness hold true at all levels in the organization.”
From this, it is clear that at the very least, staff perceptions of equity and inclusion are intimately intertwined with the distribution of organizational information.
Guiding questions to audit your organization’s internal communications practices
When a person feels systematically out of the loop, it usually isn’t because leadership purposefully wants to hide something or make someone feel unimportant. They simply haven't thought through their internal communications practices.
Strengthening internal communications starts with the concept of "leading with your values," says Elizabeth Toledo, a crisis communications expert and former vice president of communications at Planned Parenthood. To create a more inclusive communications culture, consider your institutional values—and ask yourself some important questions.
Here are some guiding questions to help you to think about your own organization’s internal communication practices:
- Do we have a method for sharing important organizational information with every person on staff?
- Have I noticed any patterns about who is always “in the know” and who isn’t? What has led to these patterns?
- Do we have the right platforms for the sharing of updates? What are they? Can everyone access them?
- Are we using meetings effectively to proactively update all levels of staff on things that are going on?
Tips for building a more inclusive culture through internal communications
Is your organization is looking to undergo transition or growth? Or do you simply want to make sure that your institutional strategy and values are being embraced by staff and reflected in their work? We have some tips for improving your internal communications practices:
- Take a look at your own default communications practices. How are these defaults incorporated into the organization’s practices?
- Ask your colleagues questions. What do they expect to hear about from leadership? Who do they want to hear from? What types of information do they need or want to know? How do they want to receive these updates? How frequently do they want these updates?
- Identify the right collaborative tools or platforms for proactive information sharing.
- Be open to receiving feedback from all employees.
Good internal communications practices are crucial to maintaining a healthy and inclusive organizational culture. With more intentional and proactive communications plans, organizations can ensure that staff can properly understand project and institutional goals and produce higher-quality work. And just as importantly, employees will feel they are a genuine part of the workplace, and will be more willing to reinforce the institution’s mission and values.
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Yejin Lee is a nonprofit professional and career coach based in New York City. She is most passionate about supporting nonprofits in operationalizing a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) framework, and assisting individuals in thoughtfully identifying and strategically pursuing professional goals. Yejin also loves cooking, eating, annotating TV shows, and hanging out with her husband and sassy shiba inu.