The Lexicon Project

Language constantly evolves. Our understanding of, and relationship with, words and terms changes over time, as influenced by culture, experience and personal backgrounds. At The Wakeman Agency, we believe it is important to develop shared language, as organizations journey towards greater understanding and action in building ecosystems rooted in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Finding consensus on the language that reflects an organization’s DEI principles, and being able to express that language in a culturally competent manner, is a powerful step in creating the systemic change needed to operationalize DEI. 

As an agency deeply committed to social change, our work has always been centered on justice and equity. Our DEI work is the culmination of almost two decades of communications expertise focused on upending systems of oppression, in order to accelerate progress on important social issues. As communications experts, we know firsthand the role that language can play in advancing systemic bias, or creating awareness and actions toward equity. Through our Lexicon Project offering, we work closely with nonprofits and socially responsible companies to shift how they communicate with internal and external stakeholders. As one client stated:

“There have been too many occasions, both within the organization and amongst our external partners, where a gap existed between our best intentions in our communications efforts and how the language and terms we used impacted our stakeholders in reality. That simply was not acceptable to us. We knew that we needed to take a more holistic look at the language we use and to reimagine how we frame our work.” 

In both the nonprofit and corporate sectors, there are many examples that illustrate how power dynamics are perpetuated through language. Our lexicon engagements help organizations evaluate how to best reflect their DEI commitments through the use of language. During this structured exploration, clients have an opportunity to embrace language as a powerful tool in redefining an organization’s narrative and communicating effectively through a DEI lens.

Through a systematic and qualitative research process, information audit and influence mapping, aspirational DEI goals are enhanced through messaging, positioning and reimagining the use of language. The process includes internal and external communications. The work culminates in a dynamic lexicon- a living, breathing resource that clarifies and defines an organization through the lens of DEI. It provides strategic insight into messaging and positioning, as well as a list of words and terms in current use that is to be retired, providing substitute language and a brief rationale for the shift. Significantly, this tool is built to evolve over time and it’s impact is felt throughout all organizational levels. As a client stated:

“Whether communicating with internal teams, or helping us position our teams with the people we work on behalf of, the Lexicon Project created a practical, structured path forward for us to better align the language we use to our organization’s core values.”

During the period of engagement, we deploy an ethnographic approach to understanding your organization’s ecosystem. Our goal is to gain insight into the deep rooted perceptions about the organization, its values and how they are reinforced or challenged through communications practices. The Lexicon Project’s framework is designed to promote collaboration within your organization in the development of a company-wide lexicon. We find that this collaborative approach to identifying and institutionalizing language greatly increases user adoption. With an understanding that language is fluid, clients also receive resources to support ongoing refinement of language. 

Communications Planning and Execution

While the Lexicon Project provides a robust, comprehensive deep dive into the use of language within an organization, sometimes a more specific approach focused on written materials is of more immediate priority. 

Many organizations struggle to effectively communicate about their DEI efforts in a manner that does not appear to be performative. Our experience in culturally competent narrative building provides us with the insights needed to help shape your story to authentically highlight your DEI journey and aspirations. Clients find our support to be beneficial in creating transparency within organizations, which is key to building trust with staff and other relevant audiences. 

We can work with your Communications, Human Resources or Public Affairs teams to provide strategic guidance for communications efforts. Our goal is to make sure that messaging is inclusive, representing all stakeholder groups. This can include preparing internal updates to staff about ongoing DEI efforts, crafting equity charters, internal communications and supporting leadership in conveying their vision to key stakeholder groups.

For information about DEI communications planning, execution and strategic advisory services, or to learn more about the Lexicon Project, please contact Jennifer Lynn at [email protected] or 212.500.5953, x113, for a confidential consultation. 

We provide strategic support to nonprofit organizations and socially responsible companies that want to build influence and generate revenue for important social issues. Let’s talk about what that looks like for your organization.