As businesses plan for the coming year, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives remain a hot topic. When you think of DEI, unbiased hiring practices and awareness and sensitivity training are probably the first things that come to mind. But language access – providing materials in the language of your stakeholders – is also crucial to any effort to promote inclusion.
As with any DEI initiative, planning is essential for an effective language access program. When your organization is reactive, responding to requests as they come in, people who need language help experience delays or less-than-optimal experiences. If they’re your employees, they won’t feel heard or valued. If they’re your clients, they may have limited access to your organization’s services or be unable to access them at all.
Investing in a strategy now results in better outcomes for everyone and can save time and money down the road. In this article, we’ll cover:
- what’s changed over the past year when it comes to DEI
- why DEI principles remain essential, and
- how to create language access strategies that foster inclusion inside and outside your organization.
The Changing Landscape of DEI
The legal landscape around DEI initiatives has shifted over the past year. For example, several states have passed laws banning some elements of DEI programs (like curriculum) in specific settings (like education).
Despite this, diversity and inclusion remain important to employees and consumers. For example, a 2023 survey found that 78% of potential employees would not consider working for a company that wasn’t committed to DEI initiatives. Among consumers, 67% say it’s important for organizationsto promote diversity and inclusion.
The bottom line? It’s vital to foster an inclusive environment in your organization in 2024. Here’s how a language access plan can help.
How Language Access Helps with Employee DEI
Organizations must provide language access to employees in order to comply with relevant laws and regulations in many places. But that’s not the only reason to create an internal language access program. It also helps multicultural employees feel like they belong in your organization (inclusivity). They feel valued and supported when they can easily access training, benefits information, and other essential resources in their preferred language. Also, employees retain more of what they hear and learn in a work setting (equity) and that benefits both the business and their careers…supporting and elevating multicultural people in the workplace.
Another benefit: language access efforts can help attract a more diverse workforce.
How Language Access Aids Client DEI
Language access promotes inclusivity and equity by making it possible for all clients and patients to access the services they need. For example, in healthcare settings, language barriers can prevent patients from getting needed medical care and make navigating the health insurance system difficult.
Language barriers can also make clients feel left out and sidelined. It’s disorienting to be in a situation where you need assistance but can’t understand what the people around you are saying. Breaking down these barriers is the first step to inclusion.
Getting Started with a Language Access Plan
With a language access plan in place, you’ll be prepared to welcome diverse team members and clients alike. Here’s how to get started:
1. Identify Gaps
Ask yourself the following questions to identify gaps in your current policies and procedures.
For employees: How easily can multilingual employees get materials in their native language? Do you have translated versions of important documents available? Do you have an efficient process in place for dealing with translation requests? Do employees have access to interpreters when needed? Are you providing interpretation for things such as ‘all-hands’ meetings?
For clients: Have you recently failed at providing meaningful access for your service to a client due to a language barrier? If you have a system for providing language access, do your clients know about it? Do they know how to access the help? How can you offer more culturally sensitive services? What languages are most commonly requested?
2. Design an outreach strategy
For employees: Is it easy for employees to access information in their native languages in a timely fashion? Are you proactively translating important documents so that multilingual employees can access the same information at the same time as employees who prefer English? Does everyone know how to request translation and interpretation services?
For clients: If you have a system for providing language access, do your clients know about it? Do they know how to access the help? For client outreach, consider taking the following steps:
- Post signs (in English and in other commonly spoken languages in your area) offering access to language services.
- Post information about your language access policy on your website.
- Mail postcards to existing clients to make sure they are aware of your offerings.
3. Identify documents for translation
For employees: Consider translating the following:
- Employee handbook
- Health and safety manuals
- Training materials
- Company policies
- Benefits information
- HR forms and documents
- Internal communications
- Legal documents
- Anything else employees need to fully participate in your organization
For clients: Translate intake forms, applications, and any other vital documents your customers will need to use your services into the most commonly spoken languages you encounter and create a plan to handle language access requests for less widely requested languages.
Consider translating your website and marketing materials as well.
Whether the material you’re translating is internal or client-facing, it helps to have relationships with professional translators or agencies who can provide translation as requested. (We can help with this one!)
4. Implement a process for scheduling qualified interpreters
For employees: Interpreters should be available for key training sessions and important meetings. Your employees will be better able to access the information provided when it’s presented in their native language.
For clients: Interpreters should be available for in-person appointments and phone calls.
In both cases, pre-existing agreements with professional interpreters or agencies will make it easier for you to provide these services. Know their policies (i.e. costs, minimums) before you start so cost isn’t a barrier. Make sure everyone in your organization knows how to request an in-person interpreter when needed, as well as the phone number to connect to a language access line. (We’ve got your back on this one, too!)
5. Track your progress.
Once you’ve put a language access plan into place, track your progress to make sure you’re achieving the desired outcomes.
Inclusion is worth it…and language access plays a critical part
A successful language access program is worth celebrating. It benefits your organization and your clients in several ways. Internally, diversity drives innovation and creativity and helps organizations make wiser decisions.
For clients, language access isn’t only about inclusion; it also promotes equity. It’s a crucial part of providing meaningful access to services and improving outcomes in many different situations. For organizations in the healthcare space, proving language access increases health literacy among multilingual clients, helps address health disparities, and can even save lives.
Supercharge your DEI strategy with a language access plan
Language access is at the foundation of a genuinely welcoming, equitable society. Now is the time to plan for a more unbiased, diverse, and inclusive 2024.
You don’t have to do it alone. Contact us to see how we can help you plan to build a diverse team and serve your multilingual, multicultural community!