When your workplace allows employees to be their authentic selves, you’re far more likely to establish a thriving, vibrant culture. But there’s more to it than just outlining the principles of a positive work culture in your company mission statement — developing a workplace that focuses on diversity and inclusion takes a lot of active listening. At Ragan’s Future of Communications Conference earlier this month, we spoke to Aray Rivera, Senior Manager of Internal Communications at J. Crew, Suzy An, Head of Equity, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Porter Novelli, and Emily Graham, Chief Equity and Impact Officer at Omnicom to learn how they are making a significant difference in the workplace through diversity and equity initiatives.
Focus on psychological security
Psychological safety is broadly defined in an employment context as the ability to share one’s true thoughts and feelings at work without fear of retribution or adverse repercussions. But it’s important to note that everyone might have their own specific understanding of what constitutes psychological safety.
“Psychological safety is nuanced,” Graham said. “Our job is to define what it means and create guidelines for it. It shouldn’t be a catchphrase, but something to be embraced.
Here are some ways communicators can take action to create these policies.
“There are a few ways we can create that certainty,” she said. “To me it looks and sounds like inclusive language and actions. We should set the tone and be role models for inclusion, with measures such as using pronouns correctly, providing closed captions for employees who need it, and so on.”
Active listening for positive culture
An also emphasized active listening. “This can help us respond from a place of empathy and cultural humility,” she said.
It’s easy to say you’re listening to your employees’ needs, but it’s another thing to actively do so. When an organization does it right, active listening can help weed out negative trends and culture that may be emerging in a company.
“Active listening is a difficult skill to hone,” An explains. Many leaders feel like they’re listening, but they listen to respond rather than listen to understand. If you really listen, it will change the dynamic of the relationship. Train your leaders and managers to understand how to use empathy and inclusive leadership skills to keep your employees happy and engaged.”
Rivera also addressed how organizations can increase their active listening efforts by reaching out to employees.
“One way to hold each other accountable is to use polls as our North Star,” he said. “It’s about understanding how employees think about how their leadership listens. They want to see their leaders take a stand and know that they are being heard by their superiors. It all starts with creating a culture where it feels good to come to work.”
Panelists also talked about the importance of being able to measure their listening efforts to determine how successful their DE&I programs are doing.
“Polls and focus groups are important — it’s good to really get out there and have human touchpoints,” Rivera added. We want to know what they think about the company and what they know about it in relation to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.”
He also shared how pulse surveys can help communicators get a snapshot of how employees are feeling.
“Pulse surveys are important for getting a sense of engagement,” she said, but there are also concerns about survey fatigue and there are other ways to engage in listening sessions. Use a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to get the complete picture. If people are happy, they will recommend your organization. If they aren’t, they will tell people.”
The discussion ended with Graham pointing out that measuring affiliation is difficult and we need to listen carefully to find out what employees need.
“Affiliation is difficult to measure,” she said. “The more people are telling me or my leadership team that they don’t belong, and now they are, means the belonging is shifting.”
Sean Devlin is a contributing editor at Ragan Communications. In his free time he enjoys sports in Philly, a good pint and 90’s trivia night.