Language plays a big role in a company’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, according to a new study from the Institute for Public Relations and The Wakeman Agency.
Almost all (97 percent) of the 393 communications leaders polled for “The Language of Diversity” agreed that “language or words can influence or reinforce power dynamics in the workplace.”
The study also found that clear definitions of basic DEI terms are seen as a priority. Two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents said that the public relations industry needs to develop standard definitions related to DEI.
While 70 percent of those polled said that “diversity” was a clearly defined term in their organizations, that number drops to 50 percent for “equity,” 27 percent for “social justice” and 16 percent for “privilege.”
That lack of definition extends to company policies. Less than one quarter (24 percent) of respondents said their organization’s definitions of basic DEI terms were publicly available. Only slightly more (31 percent) said their organization had formal DEI definitions in a company handbook or guide.
In addition, many communicators said they don’t update the language they use to discuss DEI terms as frequently as they should. Only 24 percent said that they update such language “often,” while 37 percent did so “sometimes,” 22 percent did so “rarely” and 13 percent said they never updated such language.
However, more than half of respondents (54 percent) still said they are comfortable with the DEI language used in their organizations.
When it comes to the top priorities of DEI initiatives, race topped the list, with 83 percent calling it at least a “medium priority.” Other significant factors include sex (77 percent), ethnicity (75 percent), cultural background (63 percent) and mental health (62 percent).
“Lack of clarity around language plays into power dynamics—perpetuating and even exacerbating inequity in the workplace and roadblocking authentic inclusivity,” said The Wakeman Agency founder and CEO Vanessa Wakeman. “Strategic attention to the use of language and creating clarity and consistency amongst how PR professionals are using it will no doubt help propel this mission.”
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