4-Step DEI Messaging Framework for HR and DEI Leaders

It has never been as important as it is today to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). But many leaders are not sure what to say when they discuss their company’s commitment to DEI. They may wonder: Will they face pushback from employees or from other senior leaders? Is there anything they can say to make it clear how and why DEI is so important? How can they make employees see the value and feel ownership of their organization’s DEI work?

It’s no surprise that one in four employees says their leaders rarely or never talk about DEI according to Catalyst’s recent report, How to Talk About Diversity With Employees to Achieve Your Company’s Objectives.

The good news is that DEI and HR practitioners can equip leaders and advocates by drawing inspiration from the marketer’s messaging framework.

Marketers use messaging frameworks to help visualize and craft messages that align with the brand’s values, communicate the value proposition, and address the needs and concerns of all of their audiences.

In the same way, DEI and HR practitioners can use a messaging framework to speak about DEI in a way that’s meaningful to their audience—in this case employees—by following this four-step structure:

Brand Promise: A brand promise represents the company’s commitment to customers regarding the experience it will deliver. The promise sets a vision for who the company wants to be. For HR and DEI leaders, this translates to the overall workplace culture you are trying to create. For diversity, equity, and inclusion messages to ring true, leaders must understand how the DEI strategy ties into the business strategy, values, and mission. This first step is crucial. Without it, any messaging can be viewed as performative.
Positioning Statement: Companies must tie the messaging to the rationale for investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Your positioning statement clarifies how and why DEI meets the needs of your organization and employees.
Target Audience: Companies then need to consider the perspective, motivations, goals, and relative power of each stakeholder. How does diversity, equity, and inclusion benefit board members, shareholders, executives, middle managers, and employees at every level?
Messages: Companies need to answer the age-old questions for each employee audience type: “Why should I care? What’s in it for me?” In DEI work, these messages often fall into two categories: a business rationale, highlighting the positive financial impact of DEI on the organization, and a fairness rationale, emphasizing the moral imperative of promoting DEI. Catalyst research shows that 76% of employees said their organizations use both rationales.

Our research demonstrates that organizations would do well to emphasize the fairness case to increase feelings of inclusion, fairness, and retention. Take note: If your organization chooses to emphasize the idea that DEI is the right thing to do, your actions must reinforce this message or risk being perceived as inauthentic.

The Bottom LineAs an HR, DEI, or communications professional, focus on crafting multiple messages and proof points that align to your overall DEI strategy and brand promise, and address the benefits to your employees. These messages can then be used in tandem or separately for different audiences and situations.

What companies can’t afford to do is stay silent. Catalyst found that nearly all employees (93%) think their organization should talk about its DEI efforts. Following this framework is by no means the answer to every DEI communications challenge, but it can provide you with a solid foundation to begin to build successful messaging that resonates with both your organization and employees.


4 steps DEI and HR leaders can take to understand how to message diversity, equity and inclusion to employees


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