Points of View

How Silent Messaging Impacts Workforce Diversity

Whitney White

As West Michigan grows, embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is not only the right thing for businesses to do; It’s also important for talent attraction and retention. Employers can benefit by creating a company culture that openly values DE&I. Doing so can help avoid losing employees—or customers—due to nonverbal messages you might be sending but are unaware of.

 

What is Silent Messaging?

Silent Messaging is subtle or implicit communication, or the messages that are given off without being literally stated. In terms of workforce DE&I, silent messaging can communicate about your company’s demographic makeup or culture.

For example, advertisements may be communicating that your workplace is not inclusive. Photos might only reflect one gender, race, or age group. While often unintentional, this is important to take note of.

Certain types of nonverbal communication may also send unintentional messages about DE&I in the workplace. For example, research suggests that many people are likely to sit or stand near someone who looks like themselves. This can make a workplace appear less inclusive when we repeatedly sit or stand with those of the same race, age, or gender.

Similarly, nonverbal communication such as body language and gesturing, personal space preferences, and the volume or tone in which we speak varies greatly across cultures. It is important to be aware of this as we communicate with coworkers from different backgrounds from ourselves.

 

How to combat silent messaging

First, it’s important to make sure that any images or silent messages related to your company are inclusive. This means taking a look at who is represented in any advertisements or photos and ensuring that they are reflective of a diverse workplace and community. Of course, it is best to be inclusive while also showing an honest reflection of your company’s demographic makeup.

Strong and explicit statements about diversity are the best way to combat any negative silent messages. Show that your company, and its leadership, are committed to DE&I. Communicate clearly what is being done regarding diversity and what metrics are being tracked. One way to show that diversity, equity, and inclusion is a priority for your business is to sign Talent 2025’s DE&I CEO Commitment. This is just one way that those in leadership roles can show employees that they value DE&I and want to lead by example.

Finally, be sure to foster a dialogue in the workplace about DE&I. One key component to feeling included is feeling that you have a voice. Make sure that all employees feel they can safely and effectively contribute to the conversation.

For more information about this subject, consider reading our 2015 Inclusion Interview Reports.