In the company’s strategy document, Barilla Lighthouse, diversity is presented as a fundamental corporate goal. In the words of CEO Claudio Colzani, ‘Promoting diversity and inclusion does not only mean doing the right thing, but also supporting our growth strategy. A diverse workforce and an inclusive culture increase engagement and take into account a deeper understanding of society, leading to stronger decision-making.
We have been monitoring the company’s progress for several years through a specific survey dedicated to D&I issues. In the last one, dated 2019, most employees declared they were proud to work at Barilla and this has always represented a strength. Yet, when it comes to inclusion, there is always ample room for improvement, in terms of language and behaviour, Our path is constantly evolving.
We therefore understood the need to pursue a path that would include raising awareness and sharing useful tools to make the language used in the company more inclusive.
Talking about communication and inclusive language can be an opportunity for growth for everyone. Because words are important, they always have consequences, big or small. They can include or exclude and, for this reason, they must be chosen with greater attention than the ones we often use.
We therefore embarked on a collective project dedicated to language, divided into several phases:
1. In the month of April – during the full lockdown, therefore – we chatted with David Mixner, a well-known civil rights activist and long-time consultant to our D&I Board, who shared with us the consequences that this difficult period had on the LGBTQ+ community. It was a valuable opportunity to talk about inclusive behaviour and language. There was therefore no lack of opportunity to discover the effects that this emergency had on under-represented minorities and understand that certain rights cannot always be taken for granted;
2. We then continued with a second meeting, in June, involving Igor Šuran of Parks – Liberi e Uguali who, with his monologue ‘Words that exclude’, transmitted during a beautiful theatrical session the message that the exclusionary power of words is very strong. Certain words. Choosing to use a theatre as an authentically productive environment has certainly led to individual reflections;
3. Finally, in September, with Lisa Kepinski – an external member of our D&I Board – and her collaborator Tinna Nielsen, we explored the theme of inclusive behaviours and how to promote them through small ‘practical pushes’, which they define as nudges: practicable behaviours both in person and virtually. The value of concrete examples that support the working environment we live every day is invaluable. The theory is never exhaustive in the workplace.
To enrich these three opportunities for discussion and sharing, we wanted to create another moment during which we could discuss and compare, during which to go even deeper into the theme of language.
Together with Diversity & Inclusion Speaking (a start-up that works vertically on inclusive language), which supported us in organising the virtual event, we created a discussion panel that could address the issue from different points of view. In fact, we decided to involve different professionals who, in various ways, work ‘with’ language and who could help us better understand why the way we communicate is so essential on the path of inclusion.
Together with Prof. Manzi, Professor of Social Psychology at the Catholic University of Milan, we went deeper into the cognitive and perceptive mechanisms that guide us in social interaction and understood how language can be a vehicle for prejudices and stereotypes, despite our best intentions.
Andrea Notarnicola, our Partner from Newton, then explored the consequences of the impact that carelessness and a lack of awareness around language can produce on corporate culture, also looking at the other entities and companies engaged in similar paths.
Alexa Pantanella, an expert in inclusive languages and Founder of Diversity & Inclusion Speaking, shared practical and plausible examples of non-inclusive expressions that can happen to be used (or heard used) in the professional field, also indicating how to avoid these types of situations.
Cristina Lazzati, Journalist and Managing Director of Mark Up, shared an analysis of the state of the art in the world of marketing and advertising communication, with particular emphasis on the obsolete models that still happen to be proposed; she also shared some best practices that are creating a new, more open and inclusive way of communication.
The discussion and exchanges were enriched by entertainment provided by Annagaia Marchioro, a comedian and actress, who recited a monologue centred on the importance of words.
The event, moderated by Valentina Dolciotti, took place on 22 October and saw huge numbers participate: many people connected for the entire duration of the session (2 hours) and the quantity and quality of the questions addressed to the speakers and to the rapporteur were high.
The feedback obtained during the entire course of this process has been really important for us; it was not only a sign of strong interest in the issue concerning inclusive language, but also of the willingness, on the part of our people, to ask themselves questions and open up to new practices and attitudes, even in everyday life.
We need, by working together, to increase our capacity to include and, to do so, we must learn to listen to other people.
Instead of speaking solely to explain ourselves, we need to stop and listen to the ideas and opinions of others. The magic word, which is sometimes abused, is EMPATHY: feeling, the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes.
Today, at this challenging time, it is more important than ever to stay connected and inclusive towards others.