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How inclusive storytelling can shape workplace cultures

Storytelling is a cornerstone of effective internal communication. It shapes organizational culture, conveys values, and fosters a sense of belonging among employees. However, if not approached inclusively, storytelling can perpetuate exclusion and reinforce stereotypes.

Internal communication professionals play a crucial role in shaping these narratives to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace.


Karen Eber, in her TED Talk, “How your brain responds to stories,” outlines the importance of storytelling as leadership skill as it helps create empathy, gain trust and change behaviours.

Who gets to tell what

Within organizations, storytelling shapes the internal narrative and influences how employees perceive the company and each other. When stories are dominated by a single perspective, they can reinforce stereotypes and create an exclusive culture. For example, only highlighting success stories from senior executives can overlook the contributions of other employees, perpetuating a hierarchical and exclusionary culture. So who gets to tell what in your organization? When and where and for how long? Who gets to dominate soundbites?

Inclusive storytelling and sense of belonging

Inclusive storytelling within organizations can foster a sense of belonging and validation among employees. It can highlight diverse experiences and contributions, promoting a more inclusive culture. When employees see their stories reflected in internal communications, they feel recognized and valued, which can boost morale and engagement.

“Data doesn’t change behaviour, emotions do.”

– Karen Eber, How your brain responds to stories

Elements of an inclusive story: The HASH Framework

As I discovered during my research on constructive narratives of 2019, creating inclusive stories involves several key elements, encapsulated in the HASH framework: History, Ability, Solutions, Humanity. These elements ensure that stories are not only engaging but also respectful and representative of diverse experiences.

  1. History: Contextualize stories within their historical frameworks. Understand the historical experiences of different communities and reflect this understanding in your storytelling. This helps to avoid anachronistic representations and provides depth and authenticity to the narrative.

  2. Ability: Include diverse abilities and experiences. Avoid reducing characters to their disabilities or exceptionalities. Instead, portray them as multi-faceted individuals with their own stories and strengths. This helps to normalize diverse abilities and challenge ableist stereotypes.

  3. Solutions: Highlight solutions and resilience. Rather than focusing solely on struggles, showcase how individuals and communities overcome challenges. This promotes a positive narrative and inspires hope and action.

  4. Humanity: Emphasize the shared humanity of all individuals. Focus on universal themes such as love, struggle, joy, and hope. This approach fosters empathy and connection, helping audiences to relate to and understand experiences different from their own.

So what can we do?

If you are a communication professional, here are practical steps you can take towards inclusive storytelling:

  1. Make room for more voices: Engage with a wide range of voices and perspectives within the organization. This helps to ensure that your storytelling is balanced and representative of diverse experiences.
  2. Challenge like-mindedness: Reflect on your own biases and assumptions. Actively seek to challenge and overcome them in your storytelling.
  3. Collaborate with employees: Work with employees to tell their stories authentically. This collaborative approach ensures that stories are accurate and respectful.
  4. Educate yourself: Continuously educate yourself on issues of diversity and inclusion. Stay informed about the experiences and challenges of different employee groups.

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In other words

The future of storytelling lies in its inclusivity. By recognizing the power of stories to stereotype and to heal, communication professionals can harness this power for good. They can create narratives that reflect the full spectrum of human experience, promote empathy and understanding, and pave the way for more inclusive and equitable organizations.#


    • Eber, K. (2021). How your brain responds to stories. TED.

    • Ballo-Verschuur, C. Q. (2019). Constructive news framing of the European migration. University of the Philippines.

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