Group of diverse colleagues sitting in a circle and laughing together.
From gaining input from employees to using inclusive language, there are several ways businesses can craft diversity statements that encourage a sense of belonging. — Getty Images/Luis Alvarez

Numerous articles and research reports have shown that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives have a positive impact on a business’s overall success, including its profitability. However, a new study from the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that ​​diversity messaging can backfire when it’s too focused on the “bottom line” benefit.

The APA ran an AI-based language analysis of companies’ public-facing diversity statements and conducted a series of interviews to see how job seekers from three underrepresented groups responded to different types of statements. When the job seekers read diversity statements that focus on the financial benefits of diversity, many of them said they would not feel a sense of belonging at the company that wrote it if they worked there.

The research revealed that 80% of Fortune 500 companies used a business case to justify valuing diversity, which means the majority of corporations are missing the mark in their DEI messaging. Here are a few key takeaways from the APA’s study and how your company can better approach its communication about diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

[Read more: What Is DEI?]

Why most diversity messaging falls flat

Using a business case to justify diversity — or citing that a diverse workforce will improve the bottom line — gives diversity messaging the opposite of its intended effect. According to the APA’s research, job seekers from underrepresented groups like LGBTQIA+ professionals, female STEM job seekers, and Black students didn’t feel like they would “belong” to an organization based on its business-case diversity statement and diminished their desire to work for these companies. These statements would increase the participants’ “social identity threat” — they felt the company would judge them and their work based on their social identity.

Other experiments in this study compared the responses of the underrepresented job seekers to responses from well-represented groups. Researchers found that business-case statements may also make well-represented groups feel threatened.

Using a business-case justification for diversity makes nearly all employees — regardless of social identity — feel like a number, not a human. Diversity messaging that only stands on business-case justification doesn’t communicate a business’s need for and value of genuine diversity and instead insinuates diversity is simply a quota to fill to avoid “social canceling.”

While you don’t have to combine your diversity statement with your mission statement, the messaging should be consistent in each that your company has a vested, genuine interest in improving or supporting diversity in your workplace environment.

How to authentically write a diversity statement

State your mission and values as they relate to diversity

While you don’t have to combine your diversity statement with your mission statement, the messaging should be consistent in each that your company has a vested, genuine interest in improving or supporting diversity in your workplace environment. Make it clear that DEI isn’t a box to check; it’s a conscious effort and investment you’re making with every business decision.

Many large companies, like Amazon, Uber, and the Ford Foundation, have separate mission statements for their diversity and inclusion initiatives that clearly state the company’s overall mission and tie it back to the importance of diversity. For example, Amazon’s stated mission is “to be the earth’s most customer-centric company,” and the company then states this “mission is central to our work in diversity and inclusion.”

Be aware of bias

Awareness is key to solving the issue of bias and creating a more inclusive and diverse workplace. Before companies can tackle diversity internally, they need to understand the issues they’re addressing. Many white professionals disagree that racial discrimination exists, while a majority of Black professionals feel discriminated against at work. As an organization, ensure there is context around racial and other types of inequality. Help your employees understand their own unconscious biases to create new, fairer internal processes.

[Read more: 5 Best Practices to Crafting a Diversity Strategy That Drives Real Results]

Talk to your employees

To have a diversity statement that is reflective of your team, mission, and culture, you’ll need universal input. When drafting a diversity and inclusion statement, talk to your employees about their values and experiences within the offices. Ask them where they would like to see improvements in the company and how to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.

Include clear, positive, inclusive language

Writing a diversity statement at an eighth-grade reading level, with between six to eight words a sentence, ensures clarity and saves job applicants time by communicating in simple, plain English. Convey a tone of inclusivity and positivity by using inclusive, positive language like “grow,” “empower,” “improve,” and “best.” Ensure accessibility of your online diversity statement, too, which means staying mindful of text and graphics so screen readers can parse out the correct information, choosing a website or page layout that enables text enlargement, and using different colors or flashing GIFs with care.

Revisit your statement

Even after you’ve published your statement, striving for diversity is an ongoing process. Revisit and revise your statement at least once a year, if not more, to add new perspectives and findings. Be open and adaptive to new shifts in cultural thinking, and change your messaging as needed.

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Published September 16, 2022