Good Comms

BDEI programming by design

Reading about the challenges of BDEI (belonging, diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives (Hellerstedt, et al., 2024) got me thinking about design thinking. I learned about this innovative method during my Business and Social Justice course a few months ago. Can we apply design thinking to develop more effective BDEI programs? Let’s explore this idea in today’s blog post

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving that involves five key stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. IDEO has minimized this into three stages: empathize, ideate and implement. The Nielsen Norman group came up with 6 stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, implement which they further categorized in understand, explore and materialize as can be seen below.

Whichever process you decide to follow, design thinking starts with empathizing and is an iterative process that is human-focused. Designed to foster creativity and collaboration, it looks particularly well-suited for tackling complex challenges like BDEI. By applying design thinking principles, people and culture managers can develop strategies that are deeply attuned to the needs and experiences of diverse employee groups.

BDEI programming with humans in mind

So how can we use design thinking in BDEI programming? Let’s take this forward step-by-step:

The first step in design thinking is to empathize with your audience. In the context of BDEI, this means gaining a deep understanding of the diverse perspectives and experiences within your organization. At this stage, pay particular attention to the experiences of underrepresented groups, as their voices are often marginalized. This empathy-driven research will provide a solid foundation for crafting messages that resonate authentically with all employees.

Objective: Understand the lived experiences and needs of employees across different backgrounds.


  • Conduct a series of empathy interviews with employees from various departments, levels, and backgrounds to gather personal stories and insights.
  • Use anonymous surveys to collect broader data on employees’ perceptions of inclusion, diversity, and equity within the company.
  • Facilitate focus groups that allow employees to discuss their experiences and perceptions in a safe, moderated setting.
  • Create empathy maps to visualize employees’ feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. This helps in identifying pain points and areas needing improvement.

Outcome: A comprehensive understanding of the current BDEI landscape in the organization, including any gaps or challenges that employees face.

Once you have gathered insights, the next step is to define the challenge. This involves synthesizing the information to identify key themes and issues. For example, you might find that employees feel disconnected from BDEI initiatives or that there is a lack of understanding about the importance of diversity and inclusion. Clearly defining these challenges will help in developing targeted communication strategies that address specific pain points.

Objective: Pinpoint the specific DEI challenges and opportunities within the organization.


  • Analyze the data collected during the Empathize phase to identify common themes and notable outliers.
  • Create personas representing various employee groups to help visualize the specific needs and experiences of these groups.
  • Define the core BDEI challenges that the initiative will address, such as increasing representation in leadership roles or improving cultural competency across the organization.

Outcome: A clear problem statement that articulates the BDEI challenges to be addressed, e.g., “Employees from underrepresented groups feel they lack access to mentorship opportunities that are crucial for career advancement.”

With a clear understanding of the challenges, the ideation phase involves brainstorming creative solutions. Encourage diverse teams to collaborate and generate a wide range of ideas. This diversity of thought can lead to innovative approaches to BDEI communication. For instance, you might develop interactive workshops, storytelling campaigns, or digital platforms that facilitate open dialogue and learning about BDEI issues.

Objective: Generate a wide range of creative solutions to the defined BDEI challenges.


  • Involve employees from diverse backgrounds in co-creation workshops to develop solutions collaboratively.
  • Encourage unconventional ideas and use techniques like mind mapping to push creative thinking.
  • Select the most promising ideas for further development.

Outcome: A list of potential BDEI solutions, such as a cross-departmental mentorship program, BDEI ambassador roles, or specialized training sessions to address unconscious bias.

In the prototyping phase, turn your ideas into tangible outputs. These prototypes should be designed with the end-user in mind, ensuring they are accessible and engaging. Share these prototypes with a diverse group of employees for feedback. This iterative process allows you to refine your materials based on real-world input, increasing their effectiveness and relevance.

Objective: Develop prototypes for the top BDEI solutions.


  • Choose one or two feasible ideas from the Ideate phase to develop into prototypes. For instance, a pilot mentorship program connecting junior employees from underrepresented groups with senior leaders.
  • Create a small-scale version of these initiatives, such as a six-month mentorship program outline with clear goals, participant criteria, and evaluation methods.
  • Create mock-ups of communication materials, such as videos, infographics, or interactive websites. Explain the initiative to participants and gather initial feedback.

Outcome: A pilot version of the mentorship program ready for initial testing and feedback.

The final stage of design thinking is testing your prototypes. Implement your communication materials on a small scale and gather feedback from employees. Use this feedback to make necessary adjustments and improvements. This stage is crucial for ensuring that your BDEI communication strategy is not only effective but also adaptable to the evolving needs of your organization.

Objective: Evaluate the effectiveness of the prototype and refine it based on feedback.


  • Implement the prototype with a small group of participants.
  • Collect feedback through regular check-ins, surveys, and focus groups to assess the impact of the initiative and any issues that arise.
  • Analyze the feedback and use it to refine the initiative, addressing any logistical problems or areas where the program did not meet participant needs or expectations.

Outcome: A refined BDEI program that is more closely aligned with the needs of employees, ready for broader rollout.

Finally, don’t forget to implement your program!

  • Launch the refined BDEI initiative company-wide, using all the insights gained through the testing phase to ensure it is as effective as possible.
  • Monitor the initiative’s impact over time, using a set of predefined metrics (e.g., participation rates, employee satisfaction, career progression of mentees).
  • Regularly revisit and update the program based on ongoing feedback and changing needs within the organization.

By following these steps, design thinking can help create innovative BDEI programs that are deeply aligned with the specific needs and challenges of an organization’s workforce. This approach ensures that BDEI initiatives are practical, impactful, and sustainable over the long term.

In other words

Incorporating design thinking into BDEI communication strategy offers a powerful framework for creating meaningful and impactful engagement with employees. By prioritizing empathy, creativity, and collaboration, internal communication professionals can develop strategies that resonate with diverse audiences and drive positive organizational change. This approach not only enhances the effectiveness of BDEI initiatives but also fosters a more inclusive and innovative workplace culture.#

What now?

So what can you do differently today? Here are some suggested micro-actions:

  1. Conduct empathy interviews: Schedule regular interviews with employees from diverse backgrounds to gather insights and understand their experiences.

  2. Facilitate inclusive brainstorming sessions: Organize ideation workshops with cross-functional teams to generate diverse ideas for BDEI communication.

  3. Prototype communication materials: Develop and test prototypes of communication materials, incorporating feedback from a wide range of employees.

  4. Create a feedback loop: Establish a system for ongoing feedback and refinement of BDEI communication strategies.

  5. Promote storytelling: Encourage employees to share their stories related to BDEI initiatives, and highlight these stories in internal communications.

By adopting these micro-actions, internal communication, people & culture professionals can effectively leverage design thinking to enhance their BDEI communication strategies and contribute to a more inclusive workplace.#


  • Gibbons, S., (2016). Design thinking 101. NNGroup.
  • Hellerstedt, K., Uman, T., & Wennberg, K. (2024). Fooled by diversity? When diversity initiatives exacerbate rather than mitigate bias and inequality. Academy of Management Perspectives, 38(1), 23-42.
  • (2015). The field guide to human-centered design.


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