The events of the past 12 months have caused me to reflect a lot recently on the role of internal communication in helping to create diverse and inclusive organisations, and it took me back to a research project that I carried out for my MBA in 2017.
The project looked into the lack of diversity in British football and explored ways that football clubs could create more inclusive environments; and the findings had some interesting lessons about the role and importance of communication.
Because football has become a global game, it is believed to transcend social, cultural and ethnic differences, but in British football, this is not strictly the case.
Whilst improvements have been made over the years, many aspects of the professional game in this country still exclude minority groups.
The area I focused my research on was in the stands. I explored why, despite football’s growing popularity across all genders, ethnicities and religions, football stadia in the UK remain largely white male spaces.
My findings were comprehensive. Although most football clubs in this age believe they are diverse and inclusive and open to people of all backgrounds; this is not the view held by the majority of supporters from minority and underrepresented backgrounds. Almost all of the non-attending fans that I interviewed from these groups suggested that they did not feel welcome or wanted at matches, and there were two main contributing factors:
- The first was an overriding feeling that the stadium is not a safe or welcoming environment for them. Although incidents of racism and violence have considerably reduced at football stadia in the last two decades, past events have left a lasting perception among many people in minority groups that the stadium is not a safe place for them and that they will experience discriminatory behaviour if they attend.
- The second was that many elements of the stadium environment and match-day experience do not cater for the diverse needs of different minority groups and often directly clash with them, contributing to feelings of not being welcome and not belonging.
Since my research, I have gone on to work with several professional football clubs to help them address these barriers and to create more inclusive match-day environments. Much of this revolves around practical changes to how the clubs do things and the service they provide, but a big part of this work is around communication and engagement.
To create a truly inclusive environment for all supporters and to address the preconceptions of underrepresented groups, it is vital that clubs reach out and engage with different communities to understand their needs and concerns and co-create solutions, and to make them feel like they are welcome and belong.
Effective communication with these communities is also needed in order to change their perceptions about football and the match-day experience, but it is more importantly needed to educate mainstream supporters and traditional match-goers, and to drive a cultural shift throughout football clubs so that everyone involved adopts inclusive attitudes and behaviours.
And for me, internal communication should be taking on similar roles within all organisations.
It should be aiming to give every individual and diverse group a voice and sense of belonging within their organisation and it should be attempting to inform, educate and support all employees to adopt inclusive attitudes and behaviours in all aspects of their working lives.
I’ll be discussing this in more detail later this week in my first Comms Insider briefing paper, which will include a range of practical tips and guidance to help other internal comms pros to drive diversity, inclusion and equity in their organisations.