The Year of the Employee: Centring inclusion in workplace culture

Our next guest has over 14 years of multi-sectoral work experience in the UK and Nigeria, and is passionate about harnessing the power of communication to inspire and engage colleagues to build brilliant, high-performing organisations. Michelle Okwudiafor leads internal communication and engagement at Total Energies. A member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, she holds a master’s degree in International Development from the University of Turin (ILO training centre) and a bachelor’s degree in Law from the University of London.

She is adept at working with senior business leaders to communicate and implement organisational change, drive inclusive cultures and ensure employee alignment.

An advocate for representation and inclusion, Michelle founded Career Invest in 2020 with a vision to create and enable an environment for young people from underrepresented backgrounds to thrive through mentoring and career development opportunities.

In this episode, she interrogates the events that have led to 2022 being described by many as ‘the year of the employee’. From the pandemic, to global racial protests, and the Great Resignation amongst others, these events have fertilised the ground for companies to begin to focus on the issues that matter most to the workforce. Issues including flexibility, improved employee experience, trust in leadership, diversity, and inclusion are high on the priority list of employees. Companies that fail to focus on their employees may be at the losing end of the table. But given this shift in power, what does an inclusive workplace look like and how can we as communicators help to drive the inclusion agenda in companies?

Michelle Okwudiafor

Internal Communications and Engagement Lead

Key Topics

The power has well and truly been placed into employee hands this year. Michelle details some of our minimum expectations that centre wellbeing: “the dynamic of the workplace has radically shifted. One of the major things people are looking for in any company is flexibility. Back in the day, it was so difficult to even get companies to think about the concept of working from home, but if brands and big companies have done this somewhat successfully in the last two years it proves that it’s something that can be done.

“As employees, we have more than our work, we have our family lives. People want to dictate how they work.”

Michelle says people also want to know their wellbeing – physical and mental as well as career – will be looked after and that companies can adequately compensate them for their skillset.

When we spend so much of our time at work, it is essential that we feel happy in the environment. Says Michelle: “You’re a part of that environment; work is not just about the work you deliver, the project you manage, it’s also about the environment, so you hear people talking about a work environment being toxic, or not friendly, or not supporting career progression.

All of these things make people feel excluded, and if you’re somewhere that you’re excluded, then you are probably not going to perform at your best.

“You need to work in an environment that not only encourages you, but actually brings out the best in you.”

“I think the view from the top a lot of the time is definitely different. While you may think everything looks rosy it’s important people can have those conversations with their leaders.

It’s important as communicators, especially if you’re working in an internal communications function to actually have those hard conversations.”

The key to starting those difficult conversations is having evidence to back up your points. Michelle gives examples of facts about workplace diversity, and looking to other best practices in the industry. Unsurprisingly, she also cites a key skill in our communicator arsenal: listening. She says: “it’s looking at feedback internally – what are people saying? These things can come out from polls and surveys.

“Start that conversation and then push for change or improvement.

“The creation of that inclusive culture requires an all hands on deck approach. The first thing is actually understanding what employee resource groups may be needed. Sometimes in organisations the groups may not even exist. If they do exist, these groups may not be empowered to actually do their work; have they been trained or is work needed around resource groups being shown how to communicate?

“As an example, say you have a diversity and inclusion group or women group; if they’re not doing any work or they’re not engaging with other colleagues, then the group might as well not exist.

“What is the aim of this group? Help them communicate to then drive adoption or engagement.”

“What gets measured gets done,” says Michelle, who suggests using both quantitative and qualitative measurements.

“We can actually count the number of things or the number of initiatives we created. Where it’s more of a behavioural thing, it’s measurable over time, and we can use feedback. People raised issues about this particular thing and now we’ve done this. Another part is also engagement.

“For diversity you’re looking at increasing representation, so for example, going to the HR department and finding out: did we increase our hiring pool this year? How many internal promotions did we have? Then creating some form of internal report so that year on year we can begin to see progress.”

A final thought

#CommsHero is great at inspiring and uniting comms professionals, says Michelle, who ensures she follows practitioners she’s found through us.

She adds: “CommsHero is doing a great job in uniting comms professionals in shining a light on important topical issues and just generally as a good resource for people to listen to and learn a thing or two or see that the challenge I’m facing is not new.”

The show notes are the creation of friend of #CommsHero Teela Clayton.


Visit here to find out more about Michelle’s personal brand advice support for professionals of colour:

Career Invest website

This episode is sponsored by Blink. The world’s first enterprise app designed exclusively for frontline workers.