Inclusive communication: we need to stop with stakeholder management

October 12, 2021


Marjolein Rigter | Business Director Reputation Management & Partner

October 12, 2021

In between all the pride campaigns, has emerged with a new program: Proud hospitality. This helps accommodation partners to offer an inclusive and hospitable experience for LGBTQ+ travellers.

Not only does the program allow to benefit from the current Pride momentum, but it also showcases that the company is doing something measurable and impactful for this group. In doing so, goes further than many others, because while inclusive communication often starts with images and language, it is much more than that. It requires action and evidence.

Don’t lean on last year’s relevance

A truly inclusive communication policy involves zooming out and looking at how your organisation relates to society at that given moment. Sentiments and needs in society change dynamically and frequently. So don’t lean on last year’s relevance, but ask yourself how relevant you really are as an organisation at this moment in time.

Questions may include: Are we still at the center of society or have we moved to the fringes without being noticed? What do our stakeholders really find relevant? How can we be more meaningful to them (again)?’s Proud hospitality program is a good example. But listening is also important and, unfortunately, is not very good at this. The fuss about bonuses and the NOW regulation made it painfully clear which part of society the travel company does not want to listen to.

The model above is a great illustration of the following question: Are you only focusing on target groups you think are important, or do you also listen to others who have something to tell you? Of course you can identify a specific target group, but at the same time you should remain aware companies have a relationship with all layers of the society, not just with a segment of it.

Seek uncomfortable perspectives

As communication consultants, it is our job to remain constantly alert to the relationship between sending and listening in communication. We also need to ensure something happens with the input you receive from stakeholders. In short: be open to new, and sometimes uncomfortable, perspectives. No one has ever advocated that developing and implementing is easy. In reality, it’s almost always uncomfortable, because we know we are truly shifting long -held, unchallenged beliefs.

It is not without reason, that Harvard Business Review concludes there is one thing that distinguishes diverse and inclusive organisations from those that are not: a learning culture.

Or: learning from your stakeholders. This goes from checking target group insights, all the way to seeking out the uncomfortable stakeholder perspectives you’d rather not hear. See here how Tata Steel made a charming effort with Friends of the Earth. Which does not mean this discussion is ended, by the way.

Instead of focusing solely on the core message you want to send, the standard item in any communication plan should be: this is what we want to learn from our environment or this is what we want input on. In this way, you will ensure to remain both relevant as an organisation , as well as truly inclusive.

Replace stakeholder management with stakeholder learning

An inclusive communication policy is already a great result in itself. It helps organisations remain flexible and enables them to keep adapting to new circumstances. An inclusive lens provides the added advantage of widening our perspective, and being in a better, more informed position so as not to underestimate a crisis. 

I have always found the term stakeholder management uncomfortable. As if it is about keeping stakeholders ‘under your thumb’. I propose to replace stakeholder management by ‘stakeholder learning’. Who dares? Could this be the way forward in building a more inclusive and future-proof organisation?

Photo ‘Everyone is Awesome LEGO Pride Month Set’ by James A. Molnar via

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