This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center.

In increasingly heterogeneous and diverse societies, diversity, inclusion, and equity have become central issues for organizations. Researchers have suggested that an inclusive workplace positively impacts outcomes such as trust, commitment, job satisfaction, perceived procedural and distributive justice, and employee well-being. What has been neglected in many studies dealing with inclusion is the role of communication in creating and maintaining an inclusive work environment. Therefore, the primary purpose of this study was to examine how internal communication facilitates or obstructs employees’ perception of an inclusive work environment. Inclusion, in this study, refers to individuals’ sense of belongingness, uniqueness, and empowerment. The authors further defined formal (internal) interpersonal communication as “the exchange of exclusively work-related information in an official context, and informal (internal) interpersonal communication as the off-record talk, such as humor, small talk, and supportive feedback.”

The authors conducted interviews with 84 employees who were employed in organizations in Austria and Germany. Participants’ ages ranged from 19 to 62 years. Overall, 29 participants were males, and 45 were females. The authors’ first research question asked to what extent employees’ diversity characteristics affected whether and how they perceive excluding and marginalizing organizational communication and practices. The second question asked to what extent the type of interpersonal communication about equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) affected employees’ perceived inclusion in organizations. The third and final research question focused on whether employees with (perceived) varying degrees of inclusion have different expectations regarding organizational communication about EDI.

Key Findings
1.) There were significant gender differences when it comes to viewing promotion opportunities and using gender-sensitive language. More women than men observed unequal promotion opportunities in their organizations and complained about the lack of gender-sensitive language.
2.) Compared to highly-included individuals, participants who feel moderately or not included stated that they observed less formal interpersonal communication about EDI (e.g., official meetings).
3.) Compared to participants who were highly included, participants who feel moderately or not included demanded communication about EDI issues more frequently.
4.) Formal interpersonal communication, which occurs primarily between leaders and subordinates, has the most significant impact on fostering employees’ sense of inclusion.

Implications for Practice
Organizations should 1.) recruit open-minded leaders and train leaders to adopt inclusive leadership styles, 2.) increase organizational members’ sense of belongingness while maintaining their uniqueness, and 3.) build a safe organizational culture so employees can voice their concerns.

Wolfgruber, D., Stürmer, L., & Einwiller, S. (2021). Talking inclusion into being: communication as a facilitator and obstructor of an inclusive work environment. Personnel Review.

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