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Reframing the Narrative: Ensuring the Integrity of Corporate Messaging in DE&I and ESG

28 July 2023 by Max Forsyth


Learning from Sports Journalism: The Integrity of Language

​In one of the first lectures during my sports journalism degree, my professor emphasised a rule that has stayed with me: never compare sport to war. Despite such comparisons' emotive, hard-hitting impact, sport is not a matter of life and death. The integrity of our language is crucial, a lesson that has continued to resonate in my career in corporate communications recruitment.

Case Study: The Farage-Coutts-NatWest Incident

I was reminded of that lecture while reading articles on the Farage-Coutts-NatWest crisis. Irrespective of one's views on Farage, Dame Alison, the CEO of NatWest, in her letter to Farage, acknowledged that the language used in internal comments about him was "deeply inappropriate". This event underscored the significance of adopting appropriate, respectful language in all business communications, external and internal.

Importance of Communication in Business: Core Values and Initiatives

Today, in a world where information is king and words are the currency, how businesses communicate their core values and initiatives is pivotal. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) have witnessed an impressive surge in attention in recent years. However, it has also become a breeding ground for obfuscation and misinterpretation.

Rising Focus on DE&I and ESG: A Potential Breeding Ground for Miscommunication

Conversations around DE&I and ESG are nuanced and delicate, so using appropriate language is not merely a 'nice-to-have' but a 'must-have'. Words like "inclusivity" and "emergency" have taken centre stage in corporate messaging, but the pressing question is, are businesses using them appropriately?

​The term "inclusivity" has been generously tossed around in DE&I narratives, more often than not, with little understanding of its profundity. It is not merely a symbolic invitation for individuals from diverse backgrounds to occupy space in an organisation. Instead, it underscores the effort to foster an environment that acknowledges differences and values and leverages them towards a productive end. Thus, when businesses employ the term "inclusivity" without substantive action and inclusion of everyone in that business, they dilute its essence and further alienate those they seek to engage.

The Misuse of 'Emergency' in ESG Contexts

Similarly, in the ESG context, the word "emergency" has been overused to the point of fatigue. The vast majority of people want cleaner or more renewable products and services. Still, most people know that the world will not end if oil and gas are still the primary energy source in 2050.

An emergency implies a sudden, unexpected situation requiring immediate action. Having a heart attack and needing an ambulance is an emergency. Needing more sustainable energy production is not. By calling it a climate "emergency", businesses risk creating a perception of short-term panic instead of fostering a sustained commitment to long-term solutions.

The Need for Authentic and Effective Communication in DE&I and ESG

Businesses should be more circumspect in using such terminology to ensure they reflect their commitment to these areas. DE&I and ESG should form part of the authentic, ongoing, grown-up conversation that permeates every business level.

The business world is responsible for speaking clearly, authentically, and effectively about DE&I and ESG. It must do better.

Are You Getting Your Messaging Right?

As a senior leader, are you and your business striking the right tone and balance with your communications around DE&I and ESG? Let Comms Search & Selection show you how to structure and recruit internal and external communicators with the skills and experience required for your company.

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​Comms Search & Selection specialises in executive search and recruitment for the in-house communications industry, serving clients in the UK and the USA. We expertly fill roles from Manager to C-Suite in corporate communications, public relations, internal communications, digital transformation, investor relations, and content strategy. Catering to diverse sectors, including Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 companies and financial and professional services firms, we're the go-to search and recruitment agency for seeking top communications talent. Contact us to secure the industry's best.