70.3 August 2023

Localizing Corporate DEI Practices among Technical Communicators


By Jennifer Bay, Sherri Craig, and Christine Masters-Wheeler


Purpose: The purpose of this article is to better understand how technical communicators understand and implement DEI initiatives in their workplaces, how corporate approaches to DEI impact technical communication work, how the physical and surrounding locale of the company impacts those DEI practices, and the ways technical communicators find themselves intervening, supporting, or advancing those initiatives.

Method: Using a qualitative interview methodology, we conducted one-hour interviews with practicing technical communicators. Four different participants representing different demographics and locations in the United States are profiled here.

Results: Based on our interviews, we noticed several general commonalities in our technical communicators’ experiences of DEI in their workplaces, including a division in the different kinds of labor in the workplace and a lack of feeling like technical communicators had agency in respect to DEI. We also noticed that some trends were influenced by the location and work modality.

Conclusion: Practitioners need to be aware of DEI practices in their workplaces and how those practices can impact their work as technical communicators. Technical communicators should also notice how the local community/region, as well as company structure, might impact their work. Educators need to incorporate more attention to DEI as a rhetorical and audience-centered feature in TPC academic programs.

Keywords: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Localization

Practitioner’s Takeaway:

  • Practitioners need to be aware of DEI practices in their workplaces and how those practices can impact their work as technical communicators.
  • Practitioners need to feel like they have agency to speak up, ask questions, and make changes that can promote inclusive workplace practices.
  • Technical communicators should also notice how the local community/region, work modality, and company structure might impact their work.


In “Who Technical Communicators Are: A Summary of Demographics, Backgrounds, and Employment,” Carliner and Chen (2018) report on STC census data to provide a picture of technical communicators—who they are, what they do, where they work, and more. Most of the technical communicators surveyed report that they are White, female, and work in IT or Technology industries. The vast majority of respondents work in the United States, with the two most dominant areas being the North Central region and the Hawaii and Southwest region. Respondents also tend to work in large companies, which is understandable given that the respondents are members of STC and may be able to professionalize as such because of the corporate size. However, this particular demographic—STC members—proves problematic because of the cost of membership (as much as $395 annually) and the ability to professionalize that comes with it. Could STC membership skew the results of the data? A survey by Adobe Systems Incorporated (2022) reported that most of the respondents worked for companies with fewer than 500 employees. In contrast, most of the STC survey respondents worked for companies with more than 500 employees. However, it is difficult to believe that the survey is representative of technical communication.

In this article, we are less interested in exploring the demographics of this data and more interested in thinking about the lack of diversity it depicts. Is the field really full of White, older women? And if so, what does this mean for our current emphasis on DEI? Moreover, is individual identity more important than location or cultural surroundings in terms of understanding the diversity and DEI approaches to the field? How are surveys like this from STC showing how DEI considerations are affected by where TPC professionals live and work? Workplace surveys, such as diversity climate surveys, are a common instrument to understanding employee perceptions of the internal dynamics, but rarely are the results of such instruments reflective of daily DEI practices. In what follows, we present findings from four technical communicators at various stages of their careers and in varied locations to better understand the relationship between location and DEI practices. By using the frame of localization, we show that location is a factor in how technical communicators are able to advance DEI efforts in their everyday work, as well as how DEI is perceived in the larger corporate culture of the workplace. Our findings also showed that work modality (remote or in person) also influenced perceptions of DEI. Our article details four participants at various stages of their careers with varying job titles.

Valerie is an African-American woman who shared experiences as a technical communicator at two employers. Her current place of employment is a large marketing company, for which she works remotely, based in the mid-Atlantic region. Her previous employer was a small commercial medical company in the South and she worked on-site.

Antonia is a White woman who works as a technical communicator for a large government agency in the southwestern United States. She works predominantly on-site, although there were opportunities to work remotely during much of the Covid pandemic.

Michael is a White man who shared experiences as a technical communicator at two employers. His current place of employment is with a large tech company on the West Coast. His previous employer was with a smaller retail company in the Midwest. In his current role, he reports that he travels a lot.

John is a White man who works as a technical communicator for a large software development company in the upper Midwest, not far from where the George Floyd killing and subsequent protests took place in 2020. He shared his experiences working remotely in his current role as a marketing writer.

Although these participants have diverse job titles, we consider all of them to be technical communicators. Companies often provide job titles that do not necessarily correspond to the actual work that employees perform. For example, one participant’s title is Marketing Writer, but they work closely with the technical writing team and, from what we gathered in the interview, their writing is more outward facing to industry but still technical in nature. Similarly, many of these writers originally might have held explicitly technical writer positions but were promoted to roles with greater responsibilities. Hence, we consider all of our participants technical communicators, despite their diverse job titles.

Literature Review

What is Localization?

In TPC, the concept of localization often addresses how users interact with technologies in international contexts. Drawing from sociological concepts, Huatong Sun (2006; 2009) approaches localization as the integration of technologies into a particular locale or context. Sun references the work of sociologist Anthony Giddens (1984) in naming locale as a term connected to human agency in interactive contexts. More than just a space or a place, a locale emerges through human interactions and serves as a focal point of activity across space and time. The concept of locale frames human encounters in cultural contexts. Localization, then, deals with human experiences within specific cultural and geographic contexts. In studying mobile messaging technologies, Sun (2009) understands localization as both a product (noun) and a process (verb). As a noun, or a nominalization of the verb to localize, the concept of localization represents the idea that a technology may be adapted to the needs of users in a specific local culture. However, more specifically, users who localize a technology actively integrate it into their local settings. Sun describes localization as “an articulation work of constructing the subjective experiences according to a user’s lifestyle and identities” (p. 258). Beyond “mere use” of a technology, individuals who actively localize technologies also articulate their own sense of identity through the localization process. For example, in Sun’s 2009 study, the texting and literacy practices of collectivist Chinese participants varied drastically from those in the individualist US (p. 252) and, as such, the usability of the technology was challenged by the context of the locale. Although businesses may broadly conceive of localization as the process of modifying products and advertising campaigns to appeal to different cultures, Sun diverges from this marketing-driven approach. By studying mobile technology use within a localized context, Sun documents how users themselves actively perform localization work in relation to products and technologies that they use. We argue that localization strategies also occur within the US, and approaches to DEI may be localized within different geographic settings and work modalities.

The idea that users should have agency in localization processes has become a key conceptual framework for the field of TPC—one that also has become inseparable from social justice concerns. Building on Sun’s approach to localization, Godwin Agboka (2013) identifies participatory localization as a process where community-based users define what they need from a design. In turn, the concepts of localization and participatory localization have become important theoretical frameworks for TPC scholars who advocate for incorporating localized user knowledge in the development of technologies (Acharya, 2019; Dorpenyo, 2019; Edenfeld et al., 2019; and others). Another related term, glocalization, points to instances when technical communicators address the needs of multiple audiences at once, such as when writing for websites. For example, Lee Ann Kastman Breuch (2015) uses glocalization as a concept to balance “both universal (broad range of cultures) and particular (specific cultures) needs and concerns,” arguing that user-participation is key to successful information design for glocal audiences (p. 114). A connection between social justice and localization emerges, especially when considering the needs of marginalized groups, as Keshab Acharya (2019) recognizes when discussing usability in the global North-South divide. Acharya recognizes how both localization experts and social justice researchers take issue with a “top-down approach to technology design” (p. 362). While these insights are essential to understanding localization as a conceptual framework, on the whole, the field’s discussion of localization appears to have shifted away from Sun’s original nuance about users’ subjectivities—specifically, Sun’s insight that users actively integrate an existing technology into their experiences as a means to articulate personal identity. Rather, TPC’s use of localization centers most often on the important roles that users in international locations should play in designing new or improving existing technologies. Our focus here is similar, but we limit our scope to localized settings within the US.

In discussing technology design, the connection between localization and experience design methodologies comes to the forefront. Experience design also applies to processes and systems as types of technologies and is not limited to products (Hassenzahl, 2013) but for users’ experiences and emotional connections to technologies and interactions. Experience design, when applied, suggests meaningful and engaging relationships between users and immaterial understanding of spaces. Along these lines, researchers also can think about how individuals experience DEI initiatives as types of research-based, human implemented technologies that have been designed to address systemic inequalities within workplaces. To best understand the experience, it is important to articulate how academic and public discourses surrounding DEI may influence the ways that technical communicators perceive themselves and their own abilities to affect changes in the workplace and beyond.

To this end, we explore how localization impacts the ways that technical communicators experience DEI initiatives in U.S.-based workplaces. Building upon Shivers-McNair and San Diego’s (2017) arguments about localization work as being crucial to defining the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion, we use localization as a conceptual framework to examine what DEI means in specific workplace contexts. We consider the impacts that DEI policies have on our participants and their abilities to enact DEI practices in their work as technical communicators. Before presenting the results of our interviews, we review the literature on DEI in workplace settings as well as in the field of TPC. Ultimately, we explore how localizing DEI might make practices more capable of being applied to social justice in the workplace and in the technical communication field. DEI policies and practices understood through localization might also be more successful in their ability to change workplaces.

DEI in the Workplace

Racial bias training and DEI programming increased significantly after the racial protests in 2020. However, in order for DEI programs to be effective in the modern workplace, companies need to acknowledge their histories and current realities with their employees, not simply implement new training and hire additional staff. In fact, they should ensure that the company’s values and policies are not the very barrier to implementing the sustainable, effective DEI programming they desire.

One of the challenges of implementing DEI in the workplace is the inconsistency between definitions of diversity and inclusion. For some companies, DEI can be reduced to race, often increasing BIPOC employees, and other companies are more concerned with improving conditions for women and people with disabilities. Still more might be interested in retention over recruitment or even including cognitive diversity among certain ranks. Additionally, DEI efforts can include wide ranging actions from one-off training sessions to company policy revisions, both of which can signal a company’s commitment to inclusivity, often to limited effect. Dobbin and Kalev (2016; 2022) report that even companies that have implemented diversity programming for 20 or more years have not had the conditions for underrepresented communities change significantly. Companies often commit to “doubling down” (Dobbin & Kalev, 2016) on the same approaches to DEI implemented once in the post-Jim Crow era. If they do have more innovative approaches, they are unlikely to report those to the public. Instead, most major companies are likely to “[lump] together all non-white employees, workplaces, or jobs” (Dobbin & Kalev, 2022) to obfuscate and elevate their efforts. With this knowledge, it is important to recognize that obtaining a clear understanding of diversity is often problematic and filtered through the self-serving corporate documentation.

Well-known DEI initiatives have not always had the desired result. For example, affirmative action has resulted in White women statistically benefitting most in career advancement. The ambiguous nature of the language did not include gender, but upon the 1974 revisions, all fields, including technical ones, have seen significant changes to their workforce. And yet, both Facebook and Google have faced DEI challenges recently. According to Facebook’s 2020 Diversity Report, just 1.7% of their employees in technical roles represented Black people and 4.3% for Hispanic. They report that “progress [for Black and Hispanic people in technical roles] has been slower than in non-technical roles” (Facebook, 2020, para. 10) without providing the statistics at all. In 2022, the numbers have increased to 4.9% and 6.7%, respectively. Google Diversity Annual Report 2022 shares slightly higher numbers for their workforce, although they do not distinguish between technical and non-technical workers—9.4% of workers were identified as Black and 9.0% Hispanic. Per these diversity reports, much of the DEI initiatives are race-related with targeted efforts toward improving recruitment and retention of women and historically minority employees. However, in 2021, Google began an autism initiative—Google Cloud’s Autism Career Program—that helps train their managers to hire and support people with autism. Their efforts to diversify the workplace steadily increase through changes to hiring practices and internal diversity initiatives such as personnel development and training. Yet, the individual experiences and perceptions of their employees are missing, even the experiences of those who assisted in the production of the reports—the communicators.

DEI Research in TPC

Much of the research on DEI in TPC has focused more on social justice and less on corporate DEI practices. Although the murder of George Floyd in 2020 highlighted a national demand for responding to the systemic injustices experienced by Black people and other historically marginalized populations, social justice work in TPC first gained traction after the deaths of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner and far too many others in years prior. Social justice as an issue for TPC researchers has developed through many threads, including research methods (Agboka, 2014; Jones, 2016; Colton & Holmes, 2018); user experience (Acharya, 2022; Walls, 2016); what can and should be identified as TPC (Mckoy, 2019; Cox, 2019); diversity in TPC programs (Dayley, 2020; Dayley & Walton, 2018; Gonzalez & Baca, 2017; Savage & Matveeva, 2011); and pedagogy (Agboka & Dorpenyo, 2022; Bay, 2022; Jones et al., 2018; Shelton, 2020).

However, most of the research concerning social justice has been conducted in and about the academic field; only recently has research about DEI initiatives in the workplace started to become an issue and it’s often about the academic workplace. As Jones et al. (2016) tell us, mere diversity does not guarantee inclusivity and, in fact, “social justice is the bridge from diversity to inclusion” (p. 219). Their goal is inclusion as “an ideal that we believe the field of TPC should work toward. Inclusion means that there is respect for everyone’s voices, stories, and knowledges. Diversity, which addresses representation in its most basic form, is a necessary precondition of inclusion” (p. 219). Jones et al. (2016), though, are talking about the diversity and inclusion of the academic field of TPC–who is published in TPC journals, who earns TPC doctoral degrees, and who inhabits tenure-track academic spaces. This is a first step toward thinking about DEI in the workplace as our academic programs are the grounds where we train technical communicators. How we train those TPC professionals will obviously affect how they interact in the workplace.

The diverse students being served in our programs and who teaches them are obviously important issues. We are two White women and a Black woman at historically White universities. Although one of the authors teaches a large population of multi-marginalized students, we are aware that scholars such as Dayley (2020) report that “86% [of students] said it is important to have faculty from diverse backgrounds; 86% said it is important to have curriculum that represents the contributions of people from diverse backgrounds … 83% said it is important to have students from diverse backgrounds; and 77% said it is important to have curriculum related to diversity” (p. 64). While we have some data on who is in our field via Carliner and Chen (2018) and who we are educating (Dayley, 2020; Jones et al., 2014; Savage & Mattson, 2011), more information is needed to better understand how different geographic regions might support different understandings of DEI practices.


With a multi-site IRB approved study, we recruited participants from two groups on the LinkedIn platform: Purdue University’s Professional Writing Alumni group (354 members) and Francis Marion University’s Professional Writing group (34 members). We posted the recruitment call twice: once at the beginning of January 2023, and a second time a week later. We received a small amount of responses, largely because of a short time frame, as well as the timing of the study during a busy period. A few possible participants indicated they were interested but too busy to commit.

Although we realize that recruiting from these two university-associated groups might be limiting, we did not want to restrict our possible participants by using professional associations, which are often expensive to join. Similarly, we know that what often counts as Professional and Technical Writing has historically not included the practices of many multiply-marginalized groups. Therefore, we thought that these more local networks might elicit more diverse kinds of professionals. In order to prevent bias, we recruited from groups with whom we were not directly affiliated. Pseudonyms were chosen by participants and 60-minute interviews were held on Zoom. Participants had the option to turn their cameras off to protect anonymity. We wanted to focus on writers from different geographical regions to see if localization had any effect on the practices of technical communicators.

To this end, we asked 13 questions focused on four areas in our semi-structured interviews: perceptions of diversity in the TC workplace; internal and external considerations of DEI; technical communication in practice; and DEI and the corporate workplace. We developed questions in these four areas because we wanted to understand the distinctions between how practitioners experienced DEI directly in the workplace as well as how the company or external events affected their perceptions of DEI. Similarly, because of possible differences between internal and external perceptions of DEI, we were interested in the role of location in those perceptions. The interview questions were constructed using narrative inquiry (Chase, 2007; Clandinin & Connelly, 2004; Jones, 2016, 2020) where participants were asked to reflect on their perceptions of DEI in their workplaces and to use storytelling to capture the influence of their work as technical communicators on their lived experiences with workplace DEI practices and policies. We adopted narrative inquiry because it can best capture our participants’ experiences through varied perspectives while also positioning us as exchanging in a natural dialogue about such difficult topics as diversity, equity, and inclusion. As we were recruiting participants from our alumni, we wanted to support deep reflection and agency over their perceptions. A narrative inquiry method permitted us to approach the interviews, and the resulting analysis, with an ethic of care necessary for studying DEI in the workplace.

Although we each hand-coded the interviews to examine the ways that these technical communicators understood and navigated DEI in their workplaces, and the impact that their workplace locations might have on these practices, we did not want to go overboard and focus exclusively on coding those interviews, since there was such a small sample. In order to enact an ethic of care, we wanted participant voices to stand on their own, which is what is generally focused on in narrative inquiry approaches. Likewise, we did not seek to edit quotes from our participants. We drew conclusions from the interviews as much as we could, but those conclusions were more focused on feeding into strategies that practitioners could follow in cultivating DEI practices in TPC workplaces. Readers of Technical Communication are generally practitioners who would want to learn more about their colleagues’ experiences with DEI so they could compare with their own. Hence, we focus less on strict coding for replicable results and focus more on narratives that can provide possible suggestions for TPC practitioners.

In what follows, we use data from interviews with four technical communicators to see how DEI issues and initiatives manifest in their large and small workplaces across the country, from the East Coast, Midwest, Southwest, and West Coast. From these interviews, we developed the following brief narratives detailing each of their perceptions of DEI and how those practices interfaced with their work as technical communicators.



Valerie is a young Black woman who works as a remote technical communicator in the rural American South. Although she discusses two influential workplace experiences, Valerie’s current duties include “making documentation and spreadsheets,” largely for the internal use of the company. She describes the area in which she lives as very diverse and somewhat conservative. Her marketing and advertising workplace is located on the East Coast, where she has never visited and admits she’s “not terribly familiar with it.”

Valerie perceived her workplace DEI approaches to be taken “pretty lightly.” She emphasizes, “It’s mostly just jokes here and there. I don’t think anyone’s like to confirm [DEI is happening] or I don’t think members of management are like, ‘try and add diversity.’ I think it’s just something no one’s paying attention to.”

Valerie has a complex view of her co-workers, whom she describes as “almost all white” with White men and women in leadership positions. Her technical writing team is also composed of White co-workers. In both of her workplaces discussed, those who work as technical communicators and in client-facing areas were one racial demographic and those who are in areas of production or warehouse labor were much more racially and socioeconomically diverse. The divisions of labor and their relationship to class are the most notable diversity markers in the workplace. Valerie lamented the role she believed socioeconomic biases had in effectively supporting her co-workers in relationship to Covid wellness policies. She detailed several instances where BIPOC employees in lower positions felt targeted, and ultimately denied or terminated for their need for sick leave due to Covid. Denial was a frequent presence for Valerie who described community engagement programming opportunities in her workplace, but she has never been approved to attend such offerings.

As a technical communicator, Valerie perceived that her remote presence did not allow for much influence on DEI practices and policies but that perhaps technical communicators have an advantage to approaching diversification in workplace writing and thought: “I think that as technical writers, professional writers, I think we kind of have an advantage. We’re naturally good writers, good speakers; we can put together really good thoughts, good evidence, and things of that nature. I feel like we could use that skill to our advantage [to share diverse thinking]. I think that might come across a lot better, or I would hope it would come across a lot better, and that would create a genuine discussion where everyone could work together.”

Overall, Valerie believed her current workplace’s ability to enact DEI practices and policies to be difficult to determine. Other than having MLK Jr. Day as a paid holiday, she was unaware of any explicit DEI commitments because of her remote location. Instead, she relies on understanding these commitments through the anecdotes from others in regards to their race, gender, religion, sex, and socioeconomic class.


Antonia is a White woman who works as a technical communicator for a large government agency in the Southwest. Her workplace is highly technical, and she is responsible for documenting technical processes and knowledge. Antonia’s workplace is located in a rural area that is fairly isolated but feels liberal and forward-thinking. She explains, “our specific community is just, it’s this very white, highly educated, rich bubble.”

Antonia describes her colleagues as highly educated and not very diverse, although she says that there is a strong push to diversify her workplace. She explains that there is diversity in socioeconomic status, which used to not be the case. One aspect of her workplace that she describes is a split between professional, highly educated workers and production workers. Production workers tend to be local and more racially and gender diverse; they generally come from local Indigenous populations. The knowledge workers were much more likely to be White, male, and highly educated.

One aspect of DEI that Antonia stressed is a strong push to recruit women, minorities, and underrepresented groups. She explained that she thought it was easy to be a woman at her workplace, but that she saw very few African-Americans. She explained: “It’s easy to be a woman here, I would say, in my perspective, but, literally, I might have seen two Black people in the four years I’ve been at the lab working here, and both of them were students still coming in specifically for recruiting. There’s a growing number of trends and openly gay people, and there’s a lot of support for that from a lot of staff, too. So those are common; you know, it’s a government agency.”

Where diversity, equity, and inclusion showed up for Antonia was more age-related. She explained that there was a split between veteran knowledge workers and younger employees that resulted in communication problems. She detailed that there were plans to help try to educate employees about possible age biases in the workplace: “the Old Guard, as we call them, do not know how to communicate with younger people. They have very clear biases against these young people, and the young people also are like Hey, boomer, I don’t need to listen to you; the way you guys do things is not right. So culturally, age diversity is there, and it’s a big problem. So we’re working on a program and sort of a strategy that helps people understand other generations, how people might think differently, work differently, collaborate differently, and trying to help them come together in a way that they can both be very mission driven and get the benefits of working with each other, and put aside some of those biases.”

In addition to this plan to improve communication across different generations of workers, Antonia detailed that her workplace has underrepresented resource groups that hold meetings and offer programs to both support underrepresented employees and educate the workplace about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Despite these groups, she did feel like upper management often gave lip service to DEI.

In terms of what technical communicators can do with respect to DEI, she did not feel as if much could be done. She provided one example of how she’s had to fight for the accessibility of documents and media, as well as having to explain the importance of neurodiversity as an audience consideration. Antonia also had difficulty thinking about how technical writing could be different with more attention to DEI: “I would have a hard time explaining or making an argument to how traditional forms of technical writing, could even, be impactful with diversity, equity, and inclusion [ … ] how would we write that differently? How would we write a procedure differently?”


Michael is a White man who works for a large technology company headquartered in the Pacific Northwest. His job involves rolling out new products in many locations around the US, and his duties involve a significant amount of technical communication. Michael describes the local area where he works as “on the Democratic side” where “being liberal is a really good thing.” The liberal politics of the area, in Michael’s view, creates an atmosphere that is welcoming to many types of groups.

The atmosphere of his workplace also reflects an openness to change. In fact, due to the fast pace of technical projects and the threat of potential layoffs, change appears as a constant in Michael’s workplace. His company was just one among many large, high-tech U.S. companies that laid off thousands of workers in January 2023. Despite the threat of layoffs, Michael recognizes that a culture of change can have positive aspects. He described how the company has established systems where employees can propose new ideas and innovations. He stated, “Anybody has the ability to make change in the organization. You just have to do it the right way.” The process for proposing change involves writing a well-argued document that clearly and succinctly provides evidence for why a new idea would benefit the company. An employee’s supervisor reads the document and decides whether to advance the idea up the chain of command. Michael said that the topics proposed usually involve technologies, processes, efficiency, safety, or how to improve products offered to customers.

Improving customer satisfaction emerged as a driving value for Michael and the organization. He stressed that diversity is important because it benefits customers. Because the customer base is composed of all different demographics, Michael emphasized how having diverse viewpoints helps develop better products and ultimately improves customer experience. As a technical communicator, Michael emphasizes that being open and having conversations with others can help him excel in his job. He explained, “I’m on the road and I talk to everybody. I want to learn from everybody. I want to hear from the customer, and everybody is my customer.” He emphasized that having multiple perspectives helps to improve documentation, particularly in terms of word choice and quality of language.

It is clear to Michael that the company hires people from a range of backgrounds, and he mentioned seeing notices about affinity group meetings geared towards Asian, Black, and LGBTQ+ employees. Job openings are posted on websites, but insiders know that to be hired, one must be recruited through an external hiring agency. In fact, Michael cannot think of anyone at the company who had not been hired through a recruiter. He suspects that AI tools may be used by hiring agencies, and wonders whether the computer models used in the recruitment process could be biased. However, Michael views the promotion process as unbiased. He states, “If you put in the effort, build relationships, and you give 120%—meaning that you bring something else to the organization—you will get that promotion, regardless of your age, background, or ethnicity.” Michael shares that at meetings, each person is encouraged to voice their thoughts and perspectives, regardless of their experience or background.

Because his job requires a great deal of travel, Michael does not have many opportunities to connect with his local community. He remarked that while production workers had opportunities to participate in community service projects, he and others working on the corporate side of the organization were not informed about these kinds of community outreach events.


John is a White man who works as a technical communicator for a large software development company in the upper Midwest, not far from where the George Floyd killing and subsequent protests took place in 2020. His job is officially a Marketing Writer, but he works closely with the Technical Writing team. Since the pandemic, he has been working remotely. He describes his company as more localized than other large companies that have headquarters nearby. John also describes the area as fairly liberal.

John described his workplace as not overly diverse. His workplace is primarily White but mostly female and thinks there are more women than men in other offices around the country: “When I had first started here, it was very noticeable that there were more women, not just my coworkers, but a lot of the managers are women, and for a long time the company had a female CEO.” John explained that his company demonstrates an effort to be socially conscious or aware. Annually, his company sends any woman in the company to a women’s tech conference if they wish to attend.

John detailed different ways that his company either explicitly or implicitly engaged in DEI practices. In one example, he relayed an incentive program for encouraging industry participation in surveys: “Some of our department, we run surveys to collect kinds of industry information and it’s hard to get people to commit to a survey. And so we’ve tried several different tactics, and one that we have been finding some success with is tying it to a charity. And so we have been working with BIPOC tech, or coding groups where if you take the survey, we will donate money toward this organization.” In another example, he explained that his company had created a new DEI position with HR to create more opportunities within the company. He said he had not heard much since the initial announcement but wondered if that was because he was a White male.

In a follow-up question about George Floyd, John discussed his company’s response. His company sent a survey to employees asking what the company could do in light of the civil unrest that was happening in the city. He also mentioned that there is an anonymous email to send questions and feedback to HR about anything DEI-related. Interestingly, Juneteenth is a paid holiday for his company.

John provided a lot of details for how he sees technical communicators advocating for change and including DEI perspectives in their work. He discussed collaborations with the tech writing team on updating outdated industry terminology and working to change documentation to adjust language choices. He emphasized it was important to understand audience and that he was conscious of the impact of vocabulary and terminology. In response to a question about whether his education prepared him for DEI, John discussed that one of the key tenets of his education was an attention to audience. He was taught the intentionality of language and how to write to different communities that he was not a part of. He always takes a moment to double check whether something is appropriate or not. As his team’s lead, there is a regular discussion of audience, intentionality, and language use. There is a desire to be as considerate and empathetic for what is produced for the audience as much as possible.

John did note that while there were efforts to be inclusive, there is an economic barrier; tech requires a certain level of education and expertise that may not be available to everyone.


Based on our interviews, we noticed several general commonalities in our technical communicators’ experiences of DEI in their workplaces, but we also noticed some trends that were influenced by the location and work modality. In what follows, we first outline some general similarities and then we detail more complex distinctions.

Similarities across Participants
Splits among the labor

In each of our interviews, we noticed a clear split between upper-level professionals/management and production/warehouse workers. Each of the participants explicitly mentioned this division, noting in many cases that they saw DEI issues emerge more on the production side than in their own professional world.

MLK Jr. Day holiday recognized, but not Juneteenth

Three of the four participants we discuss here mentioned the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday as an example of how companies see holidays of importance to the African American community as opportunities for DEI efforts. However, the recently designated national holiday, Juneteenth, was only recognized by John’s company.

Very little community outreach

All of our interviewees expressed an interest in more community events but did not think their companies provided many opportunities that they could attend. Also, they conflated DEI efforts in the local community with either politics (Michael) or religion (Valerie) and not with the systematic inequalities in the local area.

Degree preparation for DEI

Several interviewees felt their TC curricula prepared them for the DEI issues they would experience in their workplaces because of the focus on the audience. Several participants mentioned audience (or customer, in Michael’s case) as a driving factor in their understanding of and attention to DEI.

DEI presence

For most of our interviewees, DEI was not noticeable in their workplaces, because it was either so deeply embedded in the company (Michael’s experience) or because it was not seen as an issue that could be addressed in/by technical writing. In fact, most of the respondents focused on socio-economic status as a marker of difference, rather than race, gender expression, sexual orientation, or other identifiers.

DEI responsibility

DEI is largely seen as something handled by HR by the interviewees. Technical communicators mostly viewed themselves as having agency surrounding language and word choices on documents, but less so for DEI issues within their workplaces. For these technical communicators, enacting change in the workplace is equated with community outreach initiatives or using different word choices in customer-facing writing. As a result, technical communicators did not see themselves as having agency with respect to DEI or did not think they could do anything in their current roles.

Distinctions between Participants

We expected to see more specific distinctions between participants based on the specific locations in which they work, but we found that the work modality complicated those distinctions in interesting ways. Table 1 shows the relationship between location and work modality across the four participants. We categorize Valerie as remote, although she talked about her current remote position as well as her previous in-person position during the interview.

Table 1: Location and Work Modality
Location and Work Modality

For those participants who were rural, Valerie and Antonia, their perceptions of DEI were that the local community had minimal influence on their workplace DEI practices. The sometimes-lacking diversity of the rural area in which they were located reflected the most severe class distinctions within their workplaces (management versus production).

In the two urban workplaces, our participants John and Michael perceived a greater reciprocity between the DEI efforts of their workplaces and the local community. These two male participants perceived that the diversity of their local communities aided the DEI efforts of their workplaces, reinforcing what Shivers-McNair & San Diego (2017) have written: “Connecting and localizing communities and networks is a material practice, both in the sense that it has material effects” (p. 105). The material practices in hiring, supporting affinity groups, and improving belonging and inclusion efforts created workplaces that our technical communicators found supportive of DEI. Because of these supportive measures, both John and Michael were able to explicitly address and center their work on the needs of the audience in their document production.

The remote technical communicators had differing engagements with their workplaces. Valerie worked remotely, but her current position is located in a different geographic area from the main office where most of her coworkers were located and had returned to the office after the pandemic. She lives in a racially diverse area, but almost all of her remote coworkers are White, as they were in the office side of the business in her previous local position. She did not observe any meaningful efforts toward DEI at either workplace, remote or not. In contrast, John also worked remotely but was located in the same urban area as his workplace, so he had the ability to make connections between what was occurring in his local community and the efforts of his workplace. Specifically, during the protests against police brutality in 2020 in his city, John believed that the company had a desire to respond in a meaningful way, but, ultimately, there was limited communication and minimal DEI efforts, despite their good intentions.

Valerie also made connections between the first workplace that she mentioned, where she worked in person, and what was happening in her locale, but it was reflective of that specific environment. For example, she was the only participant to bring up religion as a factor in DEI. Because of the general importance of religion in the South (and in rural areas, specifically), it makes sense that she might have understood diversity in terms of religious differences.

Both John and Valerie were hired during Covid and were given fully remote work and have remained working-from-home. Had they not been hired during Covid, they both would be required to work on-site. We believe that remote work may have a greater impact on the perceptions of DEI efforts than we currently understand.


The limitations of our study are that we only profile four technical communicators here. While each of them represents a different area of the United States and different industries, we feel that more interviews and more data could enrich our understanding of the connections between U.S. localization and DEI work. We also wonder whether the fact that some of our participants were remote and some were in person may have skewed our findings. Still, we feel that these four profiles give us a foundation to start thinking about the relationship between different areas of the country, the political and cultural differences of those areas, and DEI work.

Conclusion and Future Work

Based on these interviews, we argue that DEI needs to be more of a focus in TPC programs as students should understand its importance for technical communication and industry work. Although we saw a clear focus on audience awareness, we think that the focus on audience in TPC programs could be enhanced by more attention to the diversity of audiences and connections between marginalization and audience in technical communication.

It was clear that none of our participants saw themselves necessarily as champions or advocates of DEI work. In fact, some did not even understand the impact DEI could have on technical communication practices. Programs can teach students how technical communicators have an important role to play in ensuring that all voices are valued and understood. Moreover, for those technical communicators who are no longer in an educational program, STC could become a leader in producing resources and continuing education for DEI for practitioners.

More broadly, the field needs a renewed interest in research on the role of writing in organizations. The role of writing at Michael’s current company is profound, and we’re wondering how that tracks in other industries or workplaces. Likewise, John mentioned writing and distributing surveys extensively in his industry as a way to gather information from diverse perspectives. While we have anecdotal stories about what TPC professionals do in their jobs, we have less clearly defined research on the extent of writing and the kinds of writing that are happening at TPC workplaces, especially high-tech workplaces. If we are to better understand the relationship between technical communicators and DEI, we need to understand the kinds of writing that TPC professionals are doing on a daily basis as forms of advocacy.

Future research on the relationship between location, localization, and perceptions of DEI could focus on the impact of remote work. How does the remote location of employment affect the perceptions of DEI commitments within the workplace, or physical location where the company is based? Understanding the impact of location and remote work on DEI might allow us to tailor specific programs for companies that can increase inclusion and belonging. Research that further discovers the increasing relational complexity of work location (in-person, hybrid, or remote) and effective DEI practices and policies will become increasingly important as companies prepare for a decentralized workforce.

Strategies for Practitioners

We conclude with specific strategies for practitioners who seek to inhabit and amplify DEI practices in the workplace, with a special attention to work modality.

  • Don’t assume clear writing is neutral and unbiased. Unconscious and implicit bias is everywhere and within everyone, and the technical communicator must be vigilant about how and where those biases creep in, whether in hiring, in writing, or in collaborating.
  • Be intentional with language and be able to write to different communities that are outside of your comfort zone. This involves being aware of those communities, either locally or remotely. As our participant John states, “As a marketer, you try to write to everybody, but your starting place is still your personal experience. So having a diverse workforce or team that helps expand your perspective. It helps expand your understanding of who other audiences might be.”
  • Be active and engaged; don’t rely on human resources personnel, management, or a diversity position to do equity work for you. Several of our participants mentioned diversity positions at their company, as if those positions were going to do all the work of ensuring equity and inclusion. For instance, when Valerie was excluded from a feedback session for employees, White colleagues should have advocated for the importance of her perspective as an African-American female.
  • Acknowledging diversity can encompass more than just race, ability, or gender. As Valerie and others mentioned, class and religion can be important factors in creating equitable workplaces, communication, and documentation for users.
  • Be aware of stratification among work levels. Most technical communicators are considered professional staff, but many of their employee production co-workers experience DEI initiatives differently. Antonia, Valerie, and John all noted the differences between their positions and the hourly, production workers. How can you use your position to advocate for them?
  • Work to better understand the relationship between where we are physically located and company workplace culture as remote options become increasingly common. Company culture may be influenced by the locale where the physical office headquarters are located, which may differ from the values and cultures of places where remote workers live. John’s workplace, for instance, was invested in BLM because it is headquartered close to where major protests have occurred. In another example, the isolation of Antonia’s workplace implicitly reflected the value and culture of the city. Technical communicators should be aware these distinctions might show up in their daily work.

Because we are so adept at writing and communication, technical communicators have the power to cultivate equitable and inclusive conditions in their workplaces. Being aware of that power, as well as one’s positionality, are key factors in moving DEI efforts from theory into practice.


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About the Authors

Jennifer Bay is Professor of English at Purdue University, where she teachesundergraduate courses in the Professional and Technical Writing major and graduate courses in Professional Writing, Community Engagement, and Rhetorical Theory. Her research focuses on community engagement and experiential learning, digital rhetorics, internships, and rhetorical theory in TPC. Her work has appeared in journals such as theJournal of Business and Technical Communication,Journal of Technical Writing and Communication,IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication,Technical Communication Quarterly,Computers & Composition,Programmatic Perspectives, as well as in edited collections. Most recently, she has published on data rhetorics and equity and inclusion in the TPC classroom.

Sherri Craig is Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she researches how universities and companies implement diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives, particularly for the recruitment and retention of Black women. She also considers the ways in which DEI matters can be developed in writing across the curriculum programs.

Christine Masters-Wheeler is an associate professor in the Department of English, Modern Languages, and Philosophy at Francis Marion University, where she coordinates the Professional Writing program, supervises internships, and teaches undergraduate writing courses. Her work has appearedin theJournal of Technical Writing and Communication,Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, and in edited collections.