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February 16th, 2021
Legitimacy • Justice
Bridget Nurre Jennions Global Head of Communications
Chris Oladogba Global Head of Digital Communications
Carmella Grace De Guzman Global Communications Associate
Elysa Neumann Communications Advisor, CPI North America

Is CPI an inclusive place to work? Putting DEI at the heart of external communications

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How are you embedding #DEI in your external comms? How are you creating space to meaningfully reflect on progress?

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The @CPI_foundation Comms team have been thinking about how to put #DEI at the heart of external comms. What have they done so far?

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At @CPI_foundation, we think #externalcomms should be audience-led, prioritise authenticity, foster learning & growth

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Like many organisations, the events of the past year have given us pause to reflect on our role in perpetuating systemic inequity. At the Centre for Public Impact, we’ve long been champions of government legitimacy: exploring how to repair the broken relationship between people and government. However, last year’s Black Lives Matter protests and the stark reality that Black, Indigenous and other ethnic minority communities have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic have made us ask ourselves: Are we doing enough to publicly call out systemic racism? Are we keeping diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at the heart of all of our external communications?

The short answer was no. 

So while our colleagues were busy thinking about how we could centre DEI more meaningfully in the employee lifecycle and create a more psychologically safe environment for our team, the CPI communications team developed some principles to help us guide and track DEI efforts in our digital content, publications, events, partnerships, and media engagement. There were four key factors that we kept in mind as we drafted these principles: that our approach be audience-led, that we prioritise authenticity by supporting our words with action, that the metrics we track be those that foster learning and growth rather than blame, and that we embed these principles sustainably in all of our communications.

Are we doing enough to publicly call out systemic racism? Are we keeping diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at the heart of all of our external communications?

Amplifying the voices of our primary audiences

As we embarked on this project, we were also in the midst of refreshing our website. In the first phase of that work, we led a CPI-wide effort to identify the key audience groups - or personas - that we are looking to engage with. Those personas included senior government officials, civil servants, frontline workers, community leaders, and others - a diverse group of changemakers who are reimagining government in their daily work.

We’ve always been interested in using our platforms to share the stories of these changemakers, but this helped crystallise our thinking that the only way to truly engage and inspire our target audiences is by featuring those leading the charge to reimagine government - in their own words. We started to be more mindful about soliciting contributor blogs and interviews with a wider range of changemakers and organised our Wake up with CPI event series around the explicit objective of using our platform to amplify the voices of our network.

So far, this has led to some difficult but important conversations. When a member of the CPI team pitches a blog, we now routinely ask if they are best-placed as the author: Can we approach someone from our network to write about this topic, co-author, or present it as an interview to help capture a practitioner’s experience in their own words? At our events, how do we meaningfully incorporate the perspectives and experiences of those who think differently than we do? We know that there are never simple answers to questions like these, but having a framework to guide our thinking has helped us ensure that these conversations are taking place more regularly across the organisation.

Authenticity and action are essential

There was an earnest desire across every team and every level of CPI that we be a more publicly anti-racist organisation. But, like many other organisations, this conversation was not brought to the forefront until we began reacting to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Like others, we felt it was urgent and important to issue a statement denouncing his murder. But in speaking with our colleagues in groups and one to one, we also realised that our statement would be meaningless, and even harmful to our team, if it was not supported by action. 

While we were eager to denounce racism and white supremacy as an organisation, we also saw that we were guilty of it. Our Board of Trustees is predominately white and male. Our team composition was predominantly white (and our internal systems risked reinforcing exclusionary practices and mindsets, undermining overall psychological safety). The stories we were telling were predominately from white voices. 

While we’ve already made some progress towards addressing these disparities, we know that we still have a long way to go towards better integrating diversity, equity and inclusion at every level at CPI. So we’ve tried to be humble and self-aware in our approach, letting our programmes and the teams leading them set the focus and tone for how we talk about government’s role in addressing systemic inequity. This has ranged from listening to the seldom heard and ensuring that the post-Covid economy is built for all, to exploring the spectrum of issues - such as voting access and vaccine distribution - that currently threaten legitimacy in North America.

And when our Washington, DC-based team woke up angry and disheartened the morning after a mob of insurrectionists carried symbols of white supremacy through the halls of the U.S. Capitol, we said so.

Guided by principles, rather than metrics

At CPI, we are firm believers in measurement for the sake of learning. So we decided not to launch into a time-consuming audit of our external communications to date to establish a data baseline - we already knew that we weren’t doing enough. Our baseline was zero, as far as we were concerned. So we thought our time was best invested in developing principles - rather than clear-cut “rules” - modelled on our principles for better government

What this means, for example, is that rather than having to make an arbitrary decision between the terms BAME or BIPOC, we let the writers or interview subjects themselves use the term that feels most appropriate for them: “We use the most specific term possible to describe the community being discussed, using where possible their preferred language (if known), and only when it is relevant to the topic.”

However, this is not to say that we haven’t started to track certain metrics on DEI in our external communications. We know that the lack of data across the communications industry is a big part of the problem. As a starting point, we’ve started sending monthly reports to the team to share how we’re keeping DEI front of mind in our blog and Medium content. We track the gender of authors, whether they are white or non-white, whether the content was written by our team or contributors, what region of the world, and whether the content expressly discussed inequity themes. 

From October 2020 to January 2021, the 40 authors who have written content for CPI have been 60 percent white and 60 percent female. While important, this data only tells part of the story. We work hard to ensure that the imagery in the content we produce and the actual topics that content focuses on are in line with our DEI principles - and that we remain consistent in this approach.

We use the most specific term possible to describe the community being discussed, using where possible their preferred language (if known), and only when it is relevant to the topic.

Embedding DEI in all that we do

It can be easy to invest heavily in setting up a new process or frameworks early on, then let its application slip over time. Since starting our DEI work in earnest in June of 2020, it has been very important to us that our DEI principles effectively become our approach to external communications. After all, reimagining government so that it works for everyone is only possible if groups that have been historically under-represented and underinvested in are brought more meaningfully into priority-setting for public services and governance.

To keep DEI front of mind in our communications, we’ve taken the following steps:

  • Proactively reaching out to contributors and interviewees who offer a diverse range of perspectives

  • Embedding the external communications principles in our overall DEI policy, communications planning materials and training for the team

  • Explicitly sharing our commitment to DEI on the website by publishing our policy and this series of blogs about what we’re learning along the way

  • Making it a regular discussion item on the agenda for the communications team

  • Sharing monthly reports with the wider team

While we’ve largely focused on the importance of racial and ethnic diversity in this article, we know we have more to do in representing and making our work accessible to government changemakers of all abilities, backgrounds, and experiences - as outlined more fully in our principles.

How are you embedding DEI in your external communications? How are you creating space to meaningfully reflect on your progress? We’d love to hear from you.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at CPI

We are on a journey to better understand and articulate why diversity, equity and inclusion are so vital to helping us achieve our mission and feel psychologically safe as we work to achieve it. In this blog series we are committing to transparency by sharing our learning.

Read the series

Written by:

Bridget Nurre Jennions Global Head of Communications
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Chris Oladogba Global Head of Digital Communications
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Carmella Grace De Guzman Global Communications Associate
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Elysa Neumann Communications Advisor, CPI North America
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