The Value of Storytelling in DEI Work
It’s no secret that the best storytellers are often the most successful in their jobs, whether they work in sales, management, communications, education, etc. According to Indeed’s Career Guide, storytelling is one of the fundamental skills you would need for success in the workplace, and more importantly, it is a skill that you can learn.1
Why is storytelling so impactful and effective?
Storytelling is a universal language of communication and existed before written history.2 A good storyteller can evoke emotions and connect with their audience deeper than any other communication method. There is truly something for everyone in a story.
Bobette Buster is a professor and story consultant to companies like Disney/Pixar and Sony. In her book, DO/ STORY/ How to tell your story so the world listens, she says, “How well you tell your story can make the difference to anything you do – whether that’s convincing someone to love you, buy something you’ve made, or give something of themselves; or how well you make your way in the world; or, simply, in sharing who you are.”
Stories tend to make a lasting impact on people’s lives because it becomes relatable and personal to the hearer. Good stories are memorable and have a high recall value. Research has shown that stories are the most effective vehicle for influencing people’s behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge.3 And this is why storytelling adds tremendous value in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work and here are three ways you can use storytelling in your organization’s efforts.
1. Learning & Development
DEI practitioners often partner with the organization’s Learning and Development (L&D) department, as both departments have shared goals of changing the organization’s corporate culture and corporate behavior. Both teams work together to determine the goals of working together and define them as what you would like your employees to do or see when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
I have seen organizations deliver this material using a variety of methods. It’s essential to experiment with your employees on what works best for them. Some modalities include but are not limited to:
- Classroom settings (one to many)
- Coaching settings (one-to-one)
- Virtual settings (instructor-led, one-to-one, one-to-many)
- Webinar (mostly monologue or panel discussion, with Q&A)
- Web-based self-paced training (can have a low or high level of interactivity)
When developing content, you can also look inward to your organization for sources of information and invite your employees to help you write the content you want to deliver. Hiring from the outside can help you get content for L&D in DEI training. You may also want to explore to try and unlock the treasure trove of individual stories that already exist within your organization.
2. Listening Sessions and Employee Storytelling Experiences
In the wake of the BLM movement and the traumatic breaking news story regarding George Floyd’s murder, companies and organizations began hosting organization-wide listening sessions to allow for voices of the historically marginalized to be heard.
There has been a term thrown around in academia called co-creation. People involved in co-creating the materials meant for them are often more engaged and forthcoming than if they were just talked at. Listening sessions are one of the ways also to get organizational buy-in for change.
A listening session is like a town hall, except that the speaker is typically a non-management-level employee rather than one of the C-Suite leaders. While a C-Suite leader is present to make an introduction and highlight the importance of the session, he or she takes a back seat for most of the session, listening to the employee talk about their lived experience.
The purpose is to get these stories out there to generate empathy and provide a healthy outlet for these employees and their community. It also demonstrates that your company cares enough to set aside time to listen to these stories.
3. Internal Newsletters
I have also seen organizations take advantage of their internal newsletters and the company intranet to advance DEI work in their company. The communications teams of these companies would write articles regularly about employees and highlight life stories. These stories are often raw and honest, so readers often feel more connected to them.
For example, during AAPI Heritage Month, I was personally touched when I read an article in an internal newsletter about an employee’s experience immigrating to the US from Asia. The author shared their experiences to help people understand what it’s like to feel “less-than” as a person experiencing discrimination against immigrants. I can only imagine how many employees felt more connected with the business because of this shared emotional experience and recognition.
Storytelling Inspires Action
To quote a recent HBR article on Storytelling and DEI, “In our attempts to create more awake and aware environments, we’re forgetting that numbers typically don’t inspire us to change our behavior — people and stories do.” Storytelling inspires action, and action leads to change.
I hope that I’ve helped shed some light on how you use storytelling in getting closer to achieving your DEI goals, and if you feel that I can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or reach out to me.
, Indeed, Dec 7, 2021, Accessed May 17, 2022.
 Storytelling and Cultural Traditions, National Geographic, Accessed May 17, 2022.
 How Sharing Our Stories Builds Inclusion, Harvard Business Review, Nov 1, 2021. Accessed May 17, 2022.