When it comes to diversity and inclusion, it’s fair to say that progress has been made. From the media and advertising to the workplace and everywhere between, representation is evolving. But how deep do these changes run, and how can we ensure they are truly impactful?
While taking part in the post-graduate social innovation programme Year Here, Addition client Emily Horton found that many organisations struggled to involve the communities they work with in what they say – not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t know how.
This led Emily to launch More Diverse Voices, a consultancy business centred around inclusive communication. She now shares her story for our latest edition of When It All Adds Up.
How did the inspiration for More Diverse Voices come about?
My background is in communications and journalism. I spent over four years in public relations working for charities, like the British Red Cross or big pension companies, like Royal London. I moved into financial journalism after that. I worked for Dow Jones on a publication called Financial News, and then became their professional services correspondence. This involved writing about accountants, lawyers, HR professionals and the culture around the Big 4 accounting firms.
This made me realise that there was a lot of work to be done around diversity, inclusion and communication – within these large organisations, but also within government, charities and smaller businesses as well. I’ve always been interested in social impact and creating positive change.
Then Covid happened. I was working quite intense hours, writing about really quite depressing things and after a while, it gets to you. I started re-evaluating things and asking how I could use my professional experience to make a difference.
I’ve always been fascinated by start-ups and the idea of creating something for myself. That’s when I applied to Year Here. It’s like a postgraduate course, but it’s also very practical and hands-on. I did six months with an organization called Pivot (now a client – check them out here).
I also worked with the Royal London, helping them set up their Changemakers programme. In the final phase – the incubator phase – you think about the types of the business that you would set up and the problem you would like to solve. You also see if there’s an appetite for it as a functioning business.
How is More Diverse Voices impacting social change?
More Diverse Voices is a consultancy business centred around inclusive communication. There’s a clear need across businesses from all industries to think about diversity and inclusion in any external communications. For most organisation, it’s something that they want to do, but they might need additional support when it comes to execution in terms of policy, procedure, and product design.
Changing the words we use and how we use them is about more than just providing education. It involves big structural changes. You need a strategy in place, and also need to spend the money, time and commitment necessary to implement it. More Diverse Voices focuses on external communication, but this can also be applied internally. I guess you could call it a language or communications audit – reviewing the way that organisations talk about themselves externally.
At More Diverse Voices we want to help our clients “find the right words” by explaining the origins and history behind certain terms, helping them view language as a powerful tool for change and suggesting alternatives to use instead. We need to explain ‘It is important that you use this, for this reason, and it will have this impact on your workforce, your customers, and society at large’.
Tell us about a ‘wow’ moment for your business.
I mentioned Pivot earlier. The social enterprise makes and sells beautiful jewellery, while also running a hostel-based training programme for people experiencing homelessness. Alice, the founder, is a really good friend now. I’ve been helping them for about a year now with their communication strategy – building up their reputation, mainly within the media and press.
We got Pivot featured in around 40 different publications, from tiny blogs all the way up to national media – even British GQ’s perfect gift for mum gift guide! This has had a direct impact on their sales, both products and also workshops. All of this will then go on to fund their programme.
What advice would you give to other young people looking to start a social impact business?
On the practical side, I’d say: do what you can and build from there. It’s about what you can do right now with the resources and tools that you have access to, and slowly building that up over time. It’s not going to happen overnight, so test, iterate and build – over and over again.
But at the same time, understand the privileged position you are in if you are able to set up a social impact business.
I am aware that as a white university-educated woman who came from a middle class London-based family that the resources on offer to me were and are more readily available compared to other historically marginalised groups of people. But as an ally, I hope to use these resources to the best of my ability to create space for others.
Also, getting an MBA isn’t necessarily the answer to everything. Find courses that offer practical work experience alongside them, like Year Here. There’s also a lot of free courses out there, Google Digital Garage, Coding for Girls, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning to name a few!
Regarding creating a sustainable and profitable social impact business, you’ll need to find something that people will pay you to do. Even if you win some initial funding through grants, creating a business model that is reliant on grant funding won’t be sustainable. You need to pay yourself, grow a customer base, and generate profits.
Thankfully, nowadays it’s easier having social impact at your core than it used to be. For example, issues like diversity and inclusion and creating a greener, more environmentally friendly world are very important to organisations now, so it’s a bit easier to embed social values into whatever service you provide. Start with defining your own values and applying them to your business – equality, accessibility, radical candour and collaboration are More Diverse Voices’.
How do you connect with clients?
I’m quite conscious about the impact of social media on my mental health, so I’m really only active on Linkedin. It’s more business-oriented than Facebook or Instagram, and there’s a clear purpose for being active on Linkedin as ultimately the business and professional community is my audience/ customers.
I’ve just started a LinkedIn newsletter offering “practical tips to get your voice heard” and I have a target to post on the platform once a week. As a result, I’ve been approached to take part in panel discussions and give talks. I’ve made some amazing connections and generated client leads. So far, it hasn’t been a struggle to find clients – which is great!
Can you tell us about your service offerings?
Normally, I recommend communication workshops, where we co-design a strategy together to be implemented across the organisation. When people have engaged with you and created something alongside you, they’re likely to be on board with it. When companies approach me for help with D&I, I’ll always advise them to start with strategy building.
You might be trying to reach a more diverse audience to increase your candidate talent pool. You might be looking to sell a particular product to a different client group. There’s a very practical side to what we offer that really goes hand in hand with marketing and external communications.
You may not have a specific D&I budget to work with. But if you look at the examples above, some of the marketing budget could be redirected to a social impact course. What excites me about the impact of More Diverse Voices is the impact we are making at a company wide level.
I also love doing media work as well (like what we did with Pivot). It isn’t always easy. It’s about implementation and good pitching, and of course, having a great story! The good news there is that I work with mainly social impact organizations, so there’s usually always a great story there. Our media relations work is also key our mission of increasing representation across the media.
Are there any specific challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Sometimes it’s hard, because you constantly have people come to you and expect you to be an expert on a really specific thing. I’m really interested in the intersection between diversity and inclusion and communication, and have read and spoken to a lot of people in the space. But I am not a diversity and inclusion academic, nor can I speak on behalf of entire communities. I’ve had a few instances where people might have a really specific question. Sometimes I’m able to help and other times I’m not.
Also so far the organisations I’ve worked with have had an ongoing diversity and inclusion strategy in place. However, this does make me wonder ‘Is the work of More Diverse Voices creating as much impact and change as it could if I was working with organisations that may need more support in changing their mindset and approach?’
There are some huge structural changes that need to happen for true equality to be reached and this can feel overwhelming at times. But then I remember that I’m only four months in….
Emily Horton is an Addition client and founder of More Diverse Voices.