A diversity statement is a public declaration of an organization’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Usually intended for employees and customers, it can be found on company websites, job descriptions and marketing materials.
While you can find all kinds of advice about how to craft one online — from recommended word counts to grade level readability — there’s one thing you can’t find on a blog: how to make your diversity statement mean something. For that, you’ll need to dig into the purpose of your organization, as well as the history of the communities you serve.
Here, we outline some simple (and not-so-simple) steps to write a purposeful and authentic diversity statement from community-building experts local to Alberta, Canada’s Bow Valley.
Does Your Organization Need a Diversity Statement?
Not all companies need to declare their commitment to diversity publicly, Aurora Borin, an intersectional feminist and fierce advocate for LGBTQ2S+ folx, says. “You have to take into account the context of the business and the community that it’s operating in.”
A queer-owned or -identified business might not need to post its commitment to diversity publicly if it’s operating in a welcoming and inclusive community. But an allied business operating in a less friendly community, she explains, might need to be more explicit. “They’re doing something that’s probably more dangerous, and all the more valuable for it, because it’s making a bigger difference in that community.”
That said, a sentence or two on your website can go a long way toward making marginalized communities feel welcome. “Don't underestimate the power of a diversity statement on your website,” Borin adds. “We look for that.”
If you decide a diversity statement is right for your organization, here are a few tips to make sure it’s meaningful.
Simple (and Not-So-Simple) Steps to Make Your Diversity Statement Meaningful
Ask yourself why.
Start by taking the time to understand why diversity is important to your organization and how it relates to your mission, vision and values.
“If it’s the first time your organization is publicly talking about structural racism, diversity and inclusion, you also should include why that’s happening,” Dawn Saunders Dahl says. Saunders Dahl is an artist and arts administrator whose work, both personally and professionally, strives to create discussion and awareness around issues of community, culture and identity.
Making a statement without really knowing why can come across as disingenuous, she adds. “If there is no action plan or clear understanding around why the organization has initiated the commitment in the first place, marginalized communities will see that there is no real commitment — only talk and no action.”
Whether it’s spurred by an incident in your community or a commitment to show your employees you care, your dedication to DEI needs to be backed by an authentic explanation in order to be meaningful.
“A diversity statement is not a marketing tactic,” Natasha Lay, communications and outreach specialist with the Bow Valley Immigration Partnership, an organization dedicated to improving immigrant settlement and integration, says. “It’s a fundamental way of working.”
Do your homework.
Before you draft your diversity statement, get to know the communities you serve. It’s important to understand the history of bias and discrimination they may have faced so you can take meaningful steps to right some of those past wrongs.
“Understand that people of color experience discomfort every day and may continue to have that discomfort when they leave the room,” Saunders Dahl says. “So take the time to sit in your own discomfort, learn where the barriers are and why they exist, and create actions in order to repair the damage.”
Keep in mind it’s not any one person’s responsibility to educate you on their community or culture. “People with lived experience do not represent everyone in their community and should not be expected to have all the answers,” Saunders Dahl adds.
Similarly, Lay says, an organization’s DEI initiatives can’t rest on the shoulders of one team member, because they won't be meaningful or sustainable. “Everyone has a role to play in diversity, equity and inclusion,” she says.
Put the resources in place.
Once you have an understanding of the work that needs to be done, make sure you have the resources in place to do it.
“It’s important to understand where your company is on the diversity, equity and inclusion journey,” Lay explains. “Arguably, everybody should be on some path toward being a more inclusive workplace, but not every organization has the resources and assets available to do the hard work.”
It would be a mistake, she adds, to commit to changing policies and infrastructure without investing the proper time, money and energy. An audit or assessment can help you decide what’s reasonable and — most importantly — achievable.
“If an organization is unable to spend the time and make the efforts, it would be wise to wait until they can offer the space to understand and implement changes,” Saunders Dahl says. A great alternative, she suggests, is to commit to a deadline to start making space for change to happen.
Make your commitment to DEI stronger by pointing to tangible ways your organization is living its promise. If you don’t have success stories or statistics yet, outline your goals and the steps you’re taking to achieve them.
“Providing actual action items and examples of what has been done, is being done and will be done in the future ensures there’s a commitment among staff and an understanding within the organization,” Saunders Dahl says. “Writing or speaking without any action is a clear sign that nothing will change.”
As you make progress toward achieving your goals, be sure to update your statement regularly. Follow up every six or 12 months, Lay suggests.
Use inclusive language.
The best diversity statements use positive, inclusive language. Doing a little bit of work to understand what words are being used in the community you serve — and why they’re being used — can go a long way toward improving authenticity and building credibility with your audience.
“Language is always evolving,” Borin says. “Every couple of years, there are new words to use. But the bottom line is that the words being used are the words people are choosing for themselves. So use the words that people want to use.”
Choose words that are authentic to your organization, too, Saunders Dahl adds. Your statement should be unique to your company, so use language that has meaning for your staff and customers.
Use real imagery.
Support your diversity statement with images that are representative of your workplace. Rather than splashing stock photos of different cultural groups on your website, use photos of the people who work for your company.
“Everything you say in your diversity statement should be backed by actions,” Lay says. “Taking photos of the people who actually power your company is a great way to show they matter and share their strengths and stories in a meaningful way.”
Celebrating the team members you work with every day — and really listening to their needs — is a simple step you can take to make your company’s DEI initiatives meaningful, Lay adds.
Once you’ve written your diversity statement, share it broadly — both in-house and in the communities you serve. Make sure information is easy to find on your company’s website, job descriptions and marketing materials. You might even decide to translate it into the languages you know are most spoken.
Making your diversity and inclusion statement meaningful takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. As Saunders Dahl says, “We all have a part to play in undoing institutional bias. When organizations understand how to respond to the phrase ‘nothing about us without us,’ only positive responses from marginalized communities will be the result.”
Jenny Spurr is a communications strategist and public relations professional based in Canmore, Alberta. She loves working with the community and has over a decade of experience managing communications campaigns, coordinating media events and building community partnerships. Spurr founded Perch Communications in 2020 to help small businesses and nonprofits rise above their competition through a combination of communications strategy, media outreach and public relations.