An illustration of a diverse group of people

Effective healthcare communicators must meet people where they are, with the information they need to make informed decisions about their care. This concept is called health literacy. Unfortunately, only 12% of the U.S. population has adequate health literacy to navigate the healthcare system. Only 12%! How is that possible in a country that spends more on healthcare than any other high-income country?

Race, ethnicity, geography, economic status and more all play a role in low health literacy. They also factor into health disparities, such as access to care, and disease and mortality rates. And health disparities, systemic racism, privilege and bias all affect how we see the world. So, what’s a healthcare communicator to do?

WriterGirl has always believed in the power of words to drive action. The words you use — and how you use them — can make healthcare information more accessible to more people. Before you craft a message, it’s important to think about your perspective. Now imagine you’ve had a different life experience, different education level or speak a different native language. How might these perspective shifts shape your message?

At WriterGirl, we’re learning to recognize our privileges and, through DEI, expand our limited perspectives to be more intentional in how we reach our clients’ audiences. We’re making deliberate efforts to embed DEI into our culture and communications. Of course, we don’t have all the answers. In fact, as a company, we’re just starting. And we have a long way to go. Being transparent and sharing our DEI commitments and progress keeps us accountable and fuels our momentum — and hopefully yours, too.

Approaching DEI with a beginner’s mindset

Adopting a beginner’s mindset is helpful in most business aspects, and DEI is no exception. Regardless of how savvy (or not) an organization is with DEI, looking through a beginner’s eyes is beneficial. As healthcare communicators, we must find a way to stay open, so we can grow and deepen our experience.

It’s important to ask hard questions of ourselves and others. Does the idea of DEI spur you into action? Or put you on the defensive? Maybe you (or others around you) have thought or said, “I don’t need DEI training because I’m not racist [or sexist … or ageist … etc.].” Or, as a healthcare communicator, “I did my audience research. Isn’t that enough?” How might we challenge our current processes, expectations or beliefs?

Find a good starting point

With DEI, it can help to do a simple audit of current practices. By analyzing your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, you can figure out where to start and where to focus. For example, WriterGirl has best practices in place to ensure communication is as accessible as possible to the general public. We:

While we plan to continue these best practices, we’re adding another lens to our work to ensure DEI better informs our communications.

Consult the experts

DEI requires a lot of learning (and unlearning). In Janet Stovall and Kim Clark’s book The Conscious Communicator: The Fine Art of Not Saying Stupid Sh*t, they share helpful techniques for “communicating with depth” in a meaningful way. They write, “We must make the unconscious, conscious. We must trade the rose-colored glasses for a DEI lens.”

In other words, we must write with DEI in mind (the DEI lens). We must educate ourselves and be purposeful when it comes to DEI initiatives (instead of hoping they happen by default). Challenge the status quo. Determine who’s being left out of the conversation. Write in intentionally inclusive ways. At WriterGirl, we’re taking Stovall and Clark’s advice, and before we write, we’re asking ourselves:

  • Have I viewed this situation differently from how I view other situations? Is it different from how I might look at something more familiar or comfortable to me?
  • Have I asked educated questions?
  • Have I viewed the situation from another perspective or lens? Am I actually looking at the situation differently, or am I just going through the motions?
  • Are my decisions and actions based on my own limited experience only? Do they exclude others’ equally important experiences?

Reading is a great way to broaden perspectives, but sometimes personal connection helps drive the message home. For example, as part of our company retreat last fall, we invited Dr. Bennyce E. Hamilton, regional director of Diversity & Multicultural Services and Deputy Title IX Coordinator at Miami University, to facilitate a DEI workshop. She led an interactive two-hour session that helped us:

  • Enrich our DEI knowledge.
  • Develop a deeper understanding of unconscious bias and its impact on our workplace.
  • Appreciate our differences in origin, upbringing, education and other factors that, while often not visible, influence who we are and how we see the world.

Taking the next step with DEI goals

The next steps with DEI depend on DEI goals and where an organization is today with DEI. For some, that might mean inviting a speaker, or starting or expanding employee resource groups. At WriterGirl, what began several years ago as a group sharing a safe place to learn and ask questions became an active DEI committee devoted to making intentional progress. We created a measurable four-pillar plan around people, policy, practice and progress. It includes ways our DEI efforts will grow with our company.

DEI is a big topic for any organization and can get overwhelming very quickly. But a methodical and strategic approach can give the most short-term wins with the biggest long-term impacts.

Here are a few ideas we’ve considered

Get leadership on board and enmesh DEI in your culture

Leaders have a big effect on people. What they say — or don’t say — matters. Having leadership buy-in and support is critical to prioritize DEI at an organization. When leaders understand, promote and act on DEI, it becomes more than a short-lived initiative, checked box or HR requirement. Instead, it becomes part of your culture.

At WriterGirl, we’ve worked directly with our leaders to get them on board with DEI. We plan to keep them updated on our DEI committee’s progress and ensure they’re communicating results and expectations to our organization.

Draft a DEI statement

Do you have a DEI statement? Is it dry org speak, or does it move you? Does it resonate with others? A DEI statement is critical for defining an organization’s DEI priorities and turning them into actions. It communicates commitment and accountability.

At WriterGirl, we’re working to craft a DEI statement that’s in line with our vision and mission to “build relationships one word at a time.” We want to get the words right. They’re the soil for our future relationships with employees, associates, clients and their audiences. So, we’re putting in the time and care to nurture something meaningful.

If your organization has a DEI statement, try comparing it to others. We’ve seen some mighty inspiring ones. And some that read more like a buzzword bingo board. Language is evolving every day, too. Is it time to take a fresh look at your statement?

Prioritize DEI initiatives

One of the most challenging aspects of DEI work is setting realistic goals with realistic timelines. The old joke: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” applies here. [Note: WriterGirl does not condone eating elephants.] With so much to learn, share and implement, it’s easy to get bogged down in bureaucracy or hit a wall of competing priorities.

Consider bite-sized priorities. Here are two examples of ours to nibble on:

  • Host a lunch and learn about microaggressions: how do they affect our lives and our work?
  • Develop an inclusive communication guide to strengthen our DEI lens.

Moving forward with DEI

Diversity, equity and inclusion work (and progress) doesn’t happen overnight. It involves a lot of learning, self-examination, uncomfortable conversations, training and behavior change. The process is ongoing and unending but also necessary and valuable. We’re committed to doing this work authentically, so we can continue building more inclusive relationships, one word at a time. And together with our clients, we can help improve health equity in the process.

Tell WriterGirl about your DEI efforts

Does your organization have a DEI committee? Where have you found the most success (or not) with DEI? We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Connect with us on LinkedIn, or send us a message.

Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter, Content Counts.

Other related blogs: