Words Matter: Creating Inclusive Workplace Cultures through Communication

Earlier this week, the annual Parker Review revealed that 96 of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies had met the target for having at least one minority ethnic director on their boards - up from 89 the previous year. The report marks a step in the right direction for the improvement of diversity and inclusion within businesses in the UK. But with new targets set for December 2027 to increase this number, there is still more work to be done.

Among the findings, it was also highlighted that many companies view diversity “largely as a recruitment activity rather than a much broader and more impactful talent management activity”. It is not enough to approach diversity and inclusion solely from a ‘tick-box’ or regulatory perspective. Moreover, any targets for hiring diverse talent will achieve very little if there are no efforts made to retain that talent.

The influence of diversity and inclusion on culture

A firm that has a diverse and inclusive workplace culture is better positioned to adapt to the diverse needs of its clients, regardless of who they are or what their background is.

Think about your own clients and their needs. Financial services consumers themselves are, of course, diverse – in terms of age, gender, social class, ethnicity, financial situation, education etc. In turn, they are going to have a variety of needs, depending on the products and services they engage with. The industry has such an impact on a very high percentage of the population, it therefore makes sense that firms within financial services should be able to understand and empathise with their diverse customer base.

The first steps to achieving this level of understanding begins with identifying how individuals communicate within the workplace and whether it reflects an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and respected.

The Power of Communication

Our words and actions have a big impact on how we communicate effectively with others. What we say and do can leave a lasting image in how we are perceived both in and out of the work environment. Unfortunately, there are times where we may overlook the significance of how our words can affect others, and in some cases, the words we end up using may be unintentionally disrespectful.  

For example, imagine you overhear a conversation between two colleagues at work. One of them has been struggling with depression and anxiety and has been absent for the last couple of days, to which the other colleague rolls their eyes and says “Oh, sick again, were you? Well, I hope you had a nice few days off while the rest of us picked up the slack.”

Or how about when another staff member consistently winks at colleagues and calls them by nicknames like “honey” or “darling”, despite being told it makes them uncomfortable, particularly one who is non-binary.

How would you respond in these situations?

There is a fine line between what some may consider as “playful office banter” and bullying. These micro-aggressions are like a leaking tap; when left unchecked over time, they can build up to become an even bigger problem, which as a result, will undermine any strategies for building an inclusive workforce. It can leave certain groups of people feeling excluded or singled out when their perceived “flaws” or “differences” are treated as part of the joke.

No one should have to work in an environment that makes them feel upset or uncomfortable. Someone being told that they are “being too sensitive” about a comment that was directed at them, further solidifies the idea of a culture that is unwilling to change. Even if a business is taking measures to hire more diversely, unless the culture is also seeing improvements, then new candidates will decide to take their talent somewhere that is shown to be inclusive.

It is important to be mindful of how we communicate and that we keep educating ourselves to become more aware of bias and micro-aggressions. It is not about ‘tiptoeing’ around others and not being able to say anything, nor is it about being seen as “woke” for the sake of it. It is about becoming more socially and culturally informed, so that we can adapt how we communicate in a manner that is more inclusive and accepting of others around us. Being inclusive of different identities helps to prevent discrimination and create a sense of belonging, building trust and fostering stronger connections.

Changing workplace culture for the better can begin as something small, such as using gender-neutral language like "they" instead of "he" or "she" in a job advertisement or using someone’s preferred pronouns which can make all the difference to someone feeling valued as part of a team.

When everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves, they are more likely to communicate effectively and work collaboratively.

About the author

Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Her role as a content designer involves developing new and engaging e-learning modules as well as assisting in the creation of articles for Insight. 

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