Report on How Communication Leaders are Defining and Discussing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Organizations

Download Full Report: The Language of Diversity PDF
Download Press Release: Press Release – The Language of Diversity
Download Definitions Document: Defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Definitions
Download Social Graphics: Language of Diversity Key Findings

This report is a part of the IPR Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The Institute for Public Relations Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and The Wakeman Agency conducted a survey of 393 communications and public relations leaders to study diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) perceptions and definitions from March 17 – April 12, 2021.

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Executive Summary

The survey explores:
• The power dynamics inherent in language and how that can reinforce or hinder the work of creating authentic DEI-infused professional cultures.
• How communications professionals perceive any current language used in their organization that reflects DEI principles and the subsequent impact on workplace ecosystems.
• If, and how, terms such as diversity, inclusion, social justice, belonging, and equity are clearly and consistently defined within the respondent’s workplace.

The goal of this study is to spark conversation and increase awareness of the implications of fully embedding DEI into an organization and how it supports or hinders efforts geared toward transformation, internally and externally.

Overall, the survey results reveal pervasive inconsistencies among public relations professionals on how they define diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as a general misunderstanding of exactly what social justice is and how it’s manifested on a day-to-day basis in professional environments. As a result, it is probable that organizational discussions and plans for action related to DEI initiatives are being hindered.

Notable issues identified in the survey include:
• Insufficient breadth when defining diversity
• Confusing equity with equality
• Defining inclusion as presence in a particular environment

It was abundantly clear from survey responses that DEI-related topics make some people deeply uncomfortable and defensive. However, many respondents welcomed the opportunity to take a deeper dive into the role of communicators, where we stand today, and how we can continue to move forward to use our positions and skills to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion for all individuals.

This report includes the key findings of the survey and suggested definitions for frequently-used DEI terms, including diversity, equity, equality, inclusion, and social justice in organizations.

The Institute for Public Relations and The Wakeman Agency conducted an online survey of 393 communication leaders to understand their perspectives of and how they define diversity, equity, and inclusion. The study was conducted from March 17 – April 12, 2021. A thematic analysis was conducted of the qualitative responses. Definitions were reviewed by rhetorical and linguistic scholars both within and outside the industry.

Media Contact
Nikki Kesaris
Communications & Marketing Manager
Institute for Public Relations

About the Institute for Public Relations
Founded in 1956, the Institute for Public Relations is an independent, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the science beneath the art of public relations.™ IPR creates, curates, and promotes research and initiatives that empower professionals with actionable insights and intelligence they can put to immediate use.  IPR predicts and analyzes global factors transforming the profession, and amplifies and engages the profession globally through thought leadership and programming. All research is available free at and provides the basis for IPR’s professional conferences and events.

About The Wakeman Agency
The Wakeman Agency is a social change agency that deploys culturally competent and transformative communications practices to advance the most pressing social issues of our time. We partner with nonprofits, foundations and socially responsible companies that aim to leverage strategic communications to advance society towards systemic equity and justice. Through our Lexicon Project service offering, we develop and operationalize organizational lexicons that assist in communication with stakeholders through a DEI lens.

Special thanks to the following for their support of this project:

All materials copyrighted by the Institute for Public Relations.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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