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How to Write More Inclusive Communication with Stacey Nordwall and Dr. Breeze Harper

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Inclusive Communication - Episode 14
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Sometimes the internet leads you right to the people you need to meet. That was the case with Stacey Nordwall, who I found through a LinkedIn post she wrote that strongly resonated with me personally. When I heard she had created and was publishing a Guide to Inclusive Communication with Dr. Breeze Harper, I knew I had to have them both on the show. Today is that episode. And I couldn’t be more excited to share it with you. I highly recommend downloading the guide here before diving into the episode.

Quotes from the episode:

“Employees, especially those who are members of marginalized groups, are acutely aware of the difference between what a company says and what a company does.”
“The most common, frequent and impactful communications sent to employees are onboarding messages, so we’ll use a brief welcome message as our example.”

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The difference between inclusive language and inclusive communication frameworks.

  • Why you should care about using inclusive communication - and how you can begin helping your coworkers care, as well.

  • The five-question framework that will help you assess how inclusive any particular piece of writing is before pressing send.

  • What a default reader profile is and how it can be utilized when writing.

  • What resources Dr. Breeze commonly shares with her clients.

Here's what I asked them:

  • What inspired you to create this incredible resource?

  • Why should employers care about using inclusive communication?

  • The guide is centered on a communication framework. Can you walk us through it?

  • What are some of the common objections you hear when it comes to using inclusive language?

  • What would you share with anyone who is scared to try? Scared to say the wrong thing.

  • If someone is ready to dip their toe in the water, what communication would you recommend they start with?

Mentioned Resources & Links

  • Pyn’s Guide to Inclusive Communication

    • Audio and written versions of the information

    • Definitions (inclusion, diversity, equity, belonging, inclusive language, inclusive communication)

    • The purpose of this guide is to help you develop foundational inclusive communication skills through a framework for inclusive communications that is based on understanding your audience and the importance of language.

    • We’ll also cover how to address pushback to implementing inclusive language at your company, how to implement what you’ve learned in this guide, and further resources to support you.

  • Inclusiveness Index from The Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley

  • The Wake Up by Michelle Kim

  • Combined Destinies – Whites Sharing Grief about Racism by Ann Todd Jealous and Caroline Haskell

Connect with Stacey Nordwall

Connect with Dr. Breeze Harper

Did you love this episode?

If so, I’d love for you to share it with 3 friends or colleagues who are also passionate about building a better world of work! Find us at or by searching Want To Work There wherever you listen to podcasts.

Inclusive Communication: A Framework for Creating Equitable Connections

As organizations continue to recognize the importance of fostering an inclusive culture, the focus on inclusive communication is growing.

However, ensuring that communication is truly inclusive goes beyond just using specific words; it requires adopting a broader framework that considers the impact of communication on diverse audiences. This article explores the significance of inclusive communication and presents a practical framework to guide organizations in creating equitable connections with their employees.

Understanding the Need for Inclusive Communication

Inclusive communication plays a pivotal role in shaping an organization's culture and fostering a sense of belonging among employees. In the wake of significant social events like the murder of George Floyd, the importance of inclusive communication has become even more apparent.

Employees are now looking to their employers to take action against inequities and support marginalized communities. Inclusive communication reflects an organization's commitment to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion, and it helps build trust and engagement among employees.

✅ Benefits of Inclusive Communication

Implementing inclusive communication brings numerous benefits to organizations, particularly in attracting and retaining diverse talent. Gen Z and Millennials, in particular, place significant importance on an organization's commitment to diversity and inclusion. By using inclusive language and frameworks, organizations can enhance their reputation, build stronger connections with customers, and drive innovation by harnessing diverse perspectives.

⚠️ Challenges and Long-Term Impact

While inclusive communication is a critical aspect of an organization's DEI efforts, it must be accompanied by tangible actions to address systemic inequities. Organizations that merely issue statements without enacting change risk falling short of their promises. True commitment to inclusive communication requires the transformation of policies, structures, and practices to foster a more equitable work environment.

The Collaborative Effort: A Journey Towards Inclusivity

Stacey, a former member of a People Team at a company called Culture Amp, and Dr. Harper, an expert in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Critical Diversity Solutions, joined forces to create a comprehensive guide on inclusive communication. Their shared vision was to offer a practical resource that went beyond mere language usage and encompassed a broader framework for inclusive communication.

Emphasizing the Moral Imperative

Leaders need to embrace the humane and moral reasons for pursuing inclusive practices, as it goes beyond financial benefits. Demonstrating authentic care and respect for all individuals fosters an environment where everyone feels valued and heard.

Developing the Inclusive Communication Framework

Stacey and Dr. Harper emphasize mindfulness and questioning of assumptions that stem from systemic oppression. Here's an overview of the framework:

  1. Mindful Understanding of Identity Categories: Recognize the top identity categories often considered "normal" and understand how systemic oppression has influenced these perceptions.

  2. Shifting Perspectives: Challenge unconscious biases and develop a critical understanding of systemic oppression's impact on communication and assumptions made about certain identities.

  3. Continuous Practice: Acknowledge that creating inclusive communication is an ongoing process. Practice, learn from mistakes, remain accountable, and cultivate humility.

We must recognize that this entails a mindset shift.

Our default thought processes are shaped by our personal experiences, leading to assumptions and biases. To overcome these barriers, we need to broaden our perspective and consider diverse viewpoints. By doing so, we become more aware of the assumptions we make and gain insights into different demographic groups' needs.

Five Questions for an Inclusive Communication Framework

There are five essential questions to ask when crafting any message:

  1. What is the best format?

  2. What should the tone be?

  3. What is the desired outcome?

  4. Who is the audience?

  5. What assumptions might they be making?

By answering these questions, we can create communication that caters to diverse needs, preferences, and perspectives. Additionally, the framework encourages us to develop a "default reader profile" to consider specific demographic groups' experiences and address potential biases.

Application of the Framework

The inclusive communication framework is intended for all individuals involved in creating communication materials, particularly those in People Teams and HR. However, the principles of this framework can be extended beyond HR teams and applied to various communication contexts, such as marketing campaigns, product launches, and website content.

Overcoming Reluctance

This campaign might be met with resistance and reluctance, especially from those who fear making mistakes or facing discomfort. It is crucial to create a supportive culture that allows for mistakes and fosters a growth mindset. Leaders must embrace accountability and humility, acknowledging that this is a continuous journey towards becoming more equitable and inclusive.

Importance of Education and Practice

To build inclusive communication competencies, education on unconscious biases and assumptions is essential. There are many resources available to understand these concepts better and develop more inclusive mindsets. Additionally, practicing inclusive language is crucial. Starting with small adjustments, like avoiding gendered language such as "guys," and replacing it with neutral alternatives like "everyone" or "folks," can have a significant impact over time.

Start Small, Build Habits

One effective way is to take a small step forward is to review existing communication and apply the five questions of the framework to make adjustments. Consistent practice and self-compassion are key to achieving lasting change.

Inclusive communication is a powerful tool for fostering a culture of belonging, trust, and equity within organizations. The collaborative efforts of Stacey and Dr. Harper have resulted in a guide that covers everything you need to know about bringing attention to this at your company.

By adopting this framework and pairing it with tangible actions, organizations can create a lasting impact and move towards a more equitable and inclusive workplace.

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