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Employees may be able to talk the language of ED&I, but now what?

Updated: 5 days ago

May 21st marks World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. This date in the UNESCO calendar celebrates not only the richness of the world’s cultures, but also the essential role of intercultural dialogue for achieving peace and sustainable development.

Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, comments: "On this Day, UNESCO would like to call upon everyone to celebrate cultural diversity, through which we will be able to build the intellectual and moral solidarity of humankind."

It’s a wonderful vision, but where are we today when it comes to diversity and dialogue? As part of our research for our new Diversity & Confusion 2023 report we explored the role of language in workplace equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I).

Just as UNESCO extols the virtues of intercultural dialogue in building peace, mastering the vernacular of the industries, companies, and teams we work in is fundamental to success at work. Consider the phrases, abbreviations, and acronyms adopted by the medical or legal sectors, for example, and the specific use of language could be the difference between life and death, freedom or incarceration. But corporate jargon can also be a trap: a linguistic shortcut to overconfidence on subject matters that require long-term, deep learning.

ED&I is no different. Our latest data shows growing confidence in the language of ED&I, but not in participating in the conversation that sits beneath it. In 2021, 31 per cent of UK workers said they would feel confident talking ‘professionally’ about ED&I in the workplace. That figure has grown by 11 percentage points (to 42 per cent) in two years. This increase is likely to be linked to the prevalence of ED&I job roles, forums and learning programmes.

Two years on, the workforce is increasingly comfortable using professional terms like ‘inclusive’ or ‘diverse’. And yet, conversely, our new data suggests that confidence in discussing topics that relate to personal identities – such as race and ethnicity, sexuality, and religion or belief – is actually very low. In the world of medicine, this might be comparable to a student learning about the language of human biology but having neither the experience of handling a body nor the nuance that comes from understanding that they all differ.

Our new report labels this insight as ‘diversity and delusion’ – one of four prominent challenges that every business leader and ED&I professional should know how to navigate. Each of these challenges is explored in more detail in the Diversity & Confusion 2023 report, which can be downloaded here.

Our Inclusive Communications Director, Shilpa Saul, shares some of her views: “Language and communication are critical to building cultural confidence across organisations and throughout their marketing initiatives. However, we often see marketers jump on the diversity bandwagon’ without first having deeper and more meaningful conversations about what makes us human. Taking the time to do this is what creates bolder, braver, and more meaningful dialogue with audiences both inside and outside organisations.”


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