This year, many industries shined a critical spotlight on diversity and inclusion. The PR industry just got going on its self-analysis, and while we’ve definitely made strides in attention, we still have a long way to go. The industry is ahead of others in that women are highly represented in its workforce. Even so, agency C-suites unfortunately do not match—women make up 60-80 percent of the industry, but only 20 percent of its leaders.
Up to this point we’ve focused our efforts on awareness. Where do I really want to see the industry go in 2020? I’d like to see increased attention paid to the reasons why diversity is critical for our success as businesses and people. Many past initiatives geared toward upping diversity jumped too quickly into action. These efforts were too formulaic. We jumped straight to the “how” too quickly, rather than reflecting deeply on the “why,” resulting in movements that lacked staying power.
As communicators, we know firsthand that moving straight to action before fully understanding the story can lead to an inauthentic campaign with lackluster results—which is why education needs to be our next step. We need to do our due diligence, taking time to hear from those who might have felt excluded,to build systems to support diversity that will stick.
Business owners and agenda-setters need to hear from a range of perspectives to appropriately move toward greater diversity
Increased awareness of diversity issues opens a huge opportunity for agencies across the industry to collaborate on continuing to tackle these issues and educate together. Organizations like the PR Council play an especially large role in organizing education for small and medium sized agencies and could initiate opportunities for education and partnership between agencies of all scales.
As a board member of the PR Council, I recently attended the annual Critical Issues Forum, centered on diversity and inclusion this year, where we heard from business owners and PR pros with different backgrounds. One speaker, Vincent Bragg, shared his personal and company mission to integrate smart people typically overlooked for criminal history into the workforce. We also heard from a legally blind PR student, Sena Pottackal, hoping to use PR to advocate for people with disabilities. I was especially excited to hear from Chris Edwards, whose book about his comms plan for his gender transition was one of my favorites this year.
Technology could also play a huge role in moving the needle on diversity in 2020
The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce just announced the adoption of a new platform for businesses to hire interns without unintentional bias. The Skills First platform transforms traditional resumes to identity-blind applications, delivering a skills-focused application to employers. Innovation like this is exactly why I love technology—it empowers us to build a better, more equitable world.
PR professionals also have an opportunity to contribute to diversity efforts in other industries through our work as communicators
There are a couple of brands in particular who are really thinking about diversity and why it’s important to their culture and their core values. They want to talk about it more—not because they want to look good, but because it’s critical to who they are. These businesses want to educate others and set standards for their industries. As their PR people, we get to help achieve their goals for positive impact by telling their story in a real way.
There shouldn’t be this idea that there are these massive differences between us—people are people. The current political environment has made a lot of people stop and think how we can be more human. In a way, it has brought a lot of people together. With the 2020 presidential election on the horizon, issues like diversity will be at the top of everyone’s minds and we’ll be looking at our world through a highly critical lens. The focus on diversity requires us to be incredibly authentic in our approach, which is possible only though education and collaboration.