How Bpost embraced inclusive communication: an interview with Bernard Vanneste

Choosing inclusive communication is a no-brainer. Or at least that’s how we see it. But Bernard Vanneste, Senior Project Manager at the bpost group, says it so much better. That’s why we invited him over for a small (virtual) interview.

What motivated you to choose inclusive communication over traditional communication?

We did not have to choose. Inclusive communication is a part of our strategy. It’s in our vision and mission, so it was there, to invest in and to take into account. 

We are working on respect and wellbeing for all of our employees, and also for our corporate citizenship inclusive communication is integrated, so it was never a discussion point. It was logical to choose inclusive communication as a part of the project DNA, because it’s a part of the bpost group.

What is inclusive communication?

As society is becoming more and more diverse, traditional ways of communicating simply don’t cut it anymore. In order to reach and appeal to these diverse target audiences, we need to think different. That means starting out with universal values, being accessible and recognizable, and avoiding biases.

What are the steps you took, what changes did you make internally within the organization to ensure a smooth transition towards inclusive communication?

Absolutely. When I say it was a logical choice, it doesn’t mean we were already a company that communicates inclusively. It’s a journey we’re on and we have taken four steps to ensure this transition. 

First of all, we build top-down sponsorship to integrate inclusive communication within the company. We have to assure top-down that our entire business, our HR and all of our departments are in line with this vision.

Second of all, we integrated external expertise into our company. We worked together with Unia and Allyens, because we sensed that, even though we have a large communication department, we still needed external expertise to strengthen our communication skills with that typical point of view of inclusiveness.

Thirdly, we spread strategy through local action plans. My approach in diversity and inclusion is you need both the top-down framework and sponsorship, and then build best practices bottom-up. These two work together to build a positive evolution within the company.

And finally, we’re now building an e-learning platform – with Allyens – on inclusive leadership. We’re starting where the local action plans are already in effect, but we’re going to do this in the entire company.

So it was people from bpost group themselves who requested external expertise?

Yes. Normally, when we communicate, I consult my contact within the communication team to discuss how we’re going to do things. In the case of adapting inclusive communication, they were supportive of the idea and immediately said: “yes, we recognize this need, but we require external expertise.”

And that’s how we got in touch with Allyens. They gave workshops to our communications team and supported all of our communication activities. This was and is still necessary, even if they’ve been around and helping us for 2 years now. They challenge and support us, and this has to go on because the expertise Allyens has, is not yet anchored within the bpost group. It’s a continuous process to build this mindset.

How do you define the success of your inclusive communication campaigns?

Defining success is talking Key Performance Indicators. It’s not always easy to measure if we are successful or not. The transition towards inclusive communication is a change process that takes time, but we do make an effort to measure. We’re looking at the spread of local plans in the branch offices to see how we’re doing. Sometimes branch offices inquire about our inclusive communication initiatives, because they have seen the success their colleagues had at another branch office and would like to implement the same at their office.

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Another one is the number of participants for our e-learnings and workshops, this indicates if people are concerned or not. A third one is surveys. We do corporate and local surveys to see if things are going well when it comes to diversity and inclusion, which also includes inclusive communication.

Still, it’s a work in progress, so it’s not easy to measure success. Sometimes you feel like things are going well, but we’re still a business and businesses want numbers. For a communication and well-being project, that’s difficult. But as you can see, we’re making an effort, and the numbers indicate we’re going in the right direction.

What does the future hold for the inclusive communication domain in general in Belgium? How do you see it evolve?

In my personal opinion, which I think is also shared by my company, is that it’s the future. Moving forward, it’s not something you can ignore. You know, the bpost group is a reflection of society. We have 25.000 people working here, and society evolves towards more diversity every year. So, we have to be inclusive in our communication, reach out for everybody, spread messages that reach everybody.

How was working with Allyens on this project?

Excellent! I think we learned about them through an article in the paper that appealed to me and my director, so I contacted Allyens 2 years ago. From there it started. It’s a company that gives authenticity and expertise, and in all the things we’ve been working on, we’ve had very good results. I can only recommend Allyens as a partner in inclusive communication.

Do you have something to add to our discussion?

I think it’s important to share this point of view. That’s why I participate in external networking, where we exchange a lot of best practices with colleagues who also work in big companies. At those events, I also hear how important inclusion is. Not only in our own workplace, but also when it comes to our clients. Inclusion is important for everyone. That’s why take the corporate responsibility to spread the message and good practices. Individually, I’ve always been socially engaged, and inclusion was always on my agenda. I’ve always said I would like to work on expertise at the end of my career. And that’s what I’m doing now. It’s a dream come true.

We have almost reached the end of our interview. What’s your message to other business leaders who have not explored inclusive communications yet?

Do it! That’s all I can say. I have the experience of investing into inclusive communications for the last two years, working together with Allyens. It’s a real investment in your human capital, your future. I only experience advantages. So, do it!

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