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 justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI). As communications experts, we know firsthand the role that language can play in advancing systemic bias, or creating awareness and actions toward equity.

  • Our JEDI 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.
  • Finding consensus on the language that reflects an organization’s JEDI 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 JEDI. 
  • 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 JEDI 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 JEDI 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.
  • The lexicon 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.

The lexicon is built to evolve over time and its 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.”

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.

  • During the period of engagement, we deploy an ethnographic approach to understanding your organization’s ecosystem.
  • 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 JEDI 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 JEDI 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 JEDI efforts, crafting equity charters, internal communications and supporting leadership in conveying their vision to key stakeholder groups.

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

Recent Accolades

The Diversity Action Alliance (DAA) is a coalition of public relations and communications organizations and leaders joining forces to accelerate progress in the achievement of meaningful and tangible results in diversity, equity and inclusion across the public relations profession. On June 15th, we were honored at the 2022 Diversity Action Alliance Annual Dinner for Best DEI Communications Research, for our project, The Language of Diversity, developed in collaboration with the Institute of Public Relations. This annual event honors industry change-makers and thought leaders. 

Receiving recognition for this work highlights a growing understanding of the power of language to drive change. The results from the research contained in the Language of Diversity report, which verified the pervasive lack of understanding, consistency and application of inclusive language within the PR industry, was conceptualized through our Lexicon Project.

Read the LA Times’ coverage of the Language of Diversity here.


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.