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6 ways to improve inclusive communication at work

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Published: 30 May 2024 | by Natasha K. A. Wiebusch, Brightmine Marketing Content Manager

Inclusive communication in the workplace is a unique, multi-layered piece of the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) puzzle. It involves everything from inclusive language and visual aids to group communication dynamics.

For many employees, inclusive communication enables them to do their work by removing unnecessary (and often discriminatory) barriers. For others, it helps them feel comfortable to be themselves among their peers so they can focus on priority work. Most importantly, inclusive communication is good for employees and good for the business.

In this article, you’ll learn more about inclusive communication and how to improve it in your own workplace.

What is inclusive communication?

Inclusive communication is communication that makes everyone feel respected, valued and welcome. At work, inclusive communication practices promote communication that supports cultural awareness, accessibility and more.

How does inclusive communication benefit the workplace?

Inclusive communication benefits the workplace by fostering a better workplace culture, building team cohesiveness and reducing instances of discrimination.

Better workplace culture

With respect to workplace culture, communicating inclusively promotes a workplace atmosphere that welcomes employees of all backgrounds. This includes employees with diverse ethnic, cultural, social economic and religious backgrounds. It also includes employees with disabilities and other identities or diverse life experiences.

Improved team cohesiveness

Inclusive communication helps employees work as team by creating a space where every employee feels welcome, respected and safe. By creating a safe space, it encourages active listening, empathy and increased participation.

Inclusive communication practices also help teams embrace diverse viewpoints and experiences. This improves teamwork, innovation and problem-solving. It also leads to stronger relationships among team members as they learn from one another’s unique perspectives.

Reduced discrimination

From a compliance perspective, inclusive communication helps prevent instances of discrimination by helping employees avoid language that reinforces stereotypes or otherwise discriminates against other employees.

Improving inclusive communication at work

Inclusive communication practices can be vast, and it may be difficult to prioritise efforts. The following are five ways you improve inclusive communication in the workplace:

1. Understand your workforce makeup

First and foremost, you must understand your audience. The best way to do this is by reviewing and understanding who your employees are. Knowing details about your workforce, such as their roles, ages or cultural backgrounds, can help you think strategically about their needs and preferred methods of communication. It can also help you understand differing communication styles.

3. Raise awareness

You’ve probably heard it before: “HR is ‘architect’ of workplace culture.” In many respects, this is true. One of HR’s core remits is ensuring employees feel connected, safe and ready to take on challenges at work. And at the center of this endeavour is promoting excellent communication.

Accordingly, you must spread awareness of what inclusive communication is and why it’s important to the organisation. You can spread awareness by promoting inclusive communication through:

  • Meetings.
  • Company-wide emails.
  • Mission and values statements.
  • Employee handbook policies.
  • Employee resources groups.
  • HR or DEI website pages.

But, HR can’t do this alone. In addition to spreading awareness from the HR office, enlist leaders from across the organization. Leaders can help raise awareness by advocating for inclusive workplace practice and modeling inclusive communication styles.

3. Use inclusive visual aids

Visual aids, such as images, presentations, charts, or diagrams, play a significant role in conveying information and ideas effectively. By ensuring these visual aids are inclusive, you can create a more accessible and equitable experience.

Inclusive visual aids consider factors such as:

  • Colour contrast for those with visual impairments, font size and style for readability.
  • Diverse representation of people from different backgrounds or abilities to promote inclusivity.
  • Avoiding stereotypes or biased imagery.

Visual aids designed with the above in mind enhance understanding, engage a wider audience and encourage participation.

4. Promote inclusive language

Leaders should also promote inclusive language work. In addition to showing awareness, inclusive language helps the organisation set a tone of mutual respect among employees. The following are just a few ways to promote inclusive language at work:

  • Providing specific guidance (e.g., pronoun use policies, DEI policies).
  • Ensuring communications and documents are gender neutral, use people-first language, and are translated into other languages if appropriate. Common communications and documents include job descriptions, workplace policies, benefits communications, among others.
  • Creating posters and other regular communications that offer reminders and best practices.

Also, remember that using inclusive language is a communication skill. Some employees will need additional training to master it. Consider adding inclusive language training to your unconscious bias training or creating a stand-alone training.

5. Create psychological safety

Psychological safety is a team’s shared belief that members can safely take risks, ask questions or make mistakes without fear of backlash or other negative consequences. Unfortunately, studies show that diverse employees tend to feel less psychological safety than their counterparts.

HR can support a culture of inclusive communication by creating psychological safety at work. These efforts will help diverse employees feel safe speaking up. It will also promote open and honest communication among all employees.

6. Leverage software that supports inclusive communication

Today, there are hundreds of AI-powered software tools that organisations can leverage to enhance inclusive communication. These tools can catch errors, increase accessibility and improve employee communication skills. The following are just a few types of software than can support inclusive communication at work:

  • Screen readers read content on computer screens out loud to users.
  • Inclusive language software identifies gendered or otherwise non-inclusive language in written content.
  • Writing assistants help users write error-free and tone-appropriate written content, such as emails, reports or briefs.
  • Meeting assistants can summarise the content of meetings, provide written transcripts and create closed captions.

In addition to the above, leaders should make sure that their current software is used in a way that promotes inclusive communication. For example, Microsoft Teams has accessibility features such as closed captions and transcript generation. Managers should practice using these features regularly so that employees don’t have to ask.

It doesn’t stop here…

Inclusive communication is not just a buzzword. It’s the foundation of a thriving and harmonious workplace. By embracing inclusive communication practices, organisations can create an environment where every employee feels empowered to contribute to their teams. However, making inclusive communication the norm also takes time. So, in addition to the above, consider how you’ll keep employees accountable and measure progress over time.