On Diversity in PR….I Want to See More People Who Look Like Me

By Rodney Pruitt

Having a diverse workforce means nothing if it’s not powered by efforts of equity and inclusion.

As a twenty-something person of color working in the PR industry, I often find myself drawn into conversations surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), specifically the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the field.

As a black PR professional, some might ask why I entered the field if DEI was such a major problem. But here’s what I knew before I started my career:

1.) I enjoy writing. I’ve always felt more confident writing a long answer than trying to figure out if the answer was “A,” “B,” “C,” or simply “none of the above.”

2.) I’m drawn to compelling stories and the ways in which those stories can be expressed.

3.) The PR industry seemed to be the best place to combine the best of both of my passions.

Some things I did not think about, however:

1.) I wouldn’t see many people who looked like me, which, whether you know it or not, can take a mental toll on an entry-level professional.

2.) While everyone would know what “diversity” meant, not as many would understand the need for a diverse workforce with an equitable and inclusive culture.

That is why I am actively working to help forge a path for young professionals like myself. Whether it’s taking on client work that helps advance the development of diversity and inclusion strategies, connecting with local students and entry-level candidates, or participating in DEI committees at the office and agency level, I want to make sure that I play a role in the evolution of our industry.

When I think about the progressive mindset that public relations agency leaders and mentors must have in order to succeed, I think about three points when it comes to DEI:

Representation and acceptance matter.

Weber Shandwick research with the Institute of Public Relations found diversity and inclusion efforts are important factors that millennials consider during their job search — a huge consideration as companies seek to attract the next generation of mid and entry-level talent. In public relations and marketing on a whole, there are a lack of mentors who represent diverse talent, which means it’s hard to attract new talent when they don’t see themselves reflected on the agency roster.

In 2016, Verizon CMO Diego Scotti challenged the company’s partner agencies to diversify their teams. By the next year, Verizon worked with five partner agencies, including Weber Shandwick, to develop a rotational development program now known as Verizon AdFellows. A paid fellowship program, AdFellows offers 20 diverse, entry-level marketers the chance to rotate through Verizon and its partner agencies over the course of eight months to acquire skills for entering into the marketing sector, with the hope to place 90 percent of Fellows into full-time positions, a goal they proudly fulfilled this year.

I was particularly proud to work on this program because I was able to see firsthand how Verizon was bringing several disciplines together — public relations, advertising, media, etc. — to give young workers a holistic experience and journey through the marketing engine. It was truly remarkable learning what could be done when companies and agencies work together to achieve a common goal of increasing representation of minorities within the communications and marketing industry. And efforts like this are even more powerful when stakeholders from brands, agencies, academia, industry organizations, etc. come together toward this shared mission.

Awareness and opportunity matter.

Studies show younger generations view cognitive diversity as a necessary element for innovation and ideal teamwork, but it all starts with a willingness to be open, empathetic and inclusive. One concrete way to facilitate this is to measure inclusion in through surveys, mentorship opportunities and regular check-ins with employees. Inclusion allows for a collaborative environment enriched with a variety of ideas, perspectives and values, leading to a workplace where people can be their whole selves.

Our industry must be proactive and realize now is the time to think about creating an environment of inclusion. And that starts with transparency and accountability. When companies are more transparent in their recognition of an issue, it creates a more authentic relationship with their stakeholders (employees, clients, etc.).

For example, one leader in the tech industry realized that the proportion of women and people of color in her company was lacking as the company started to ramp up in size. After drawing inspiration from the film Moneyball, she asked herself how to look for talent that was being “systematically undervalued” by her competitors. She had an honest conversation with her workers and recognized that she needed to be intentional in providing support and ensuring equal access for marginalized voices. In the end, she was able to attract and retain talent who felt other companies had not provided fair and equal opportunity.

In resolving issues of diversity, the PR industry must ensure support and opportunity for equal access and make that support known. Communications is an essential element to the success of any diversity and inclusion program.

Discussion is important, but action is necessary.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are no longer buzzwords without much weight in our industry.

Daily, we’re required to think creatively and passionately about solving business cases, spreading awareness for campaigns, building brand loyalty and minimizing risks. That is exactly how we should — actively — be thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion. Think about those traditional PR objectives in terms of DEI:

· When you work to mitigate diversity issues, you solve business cases for your organization and the industry

· When you recognize past DEI setbacks and work towards enhancing the future, you’re spreading awareness of your organization as an honest and transparent champion of change

· When you retain diverse talent and ensure they see themselves in the pipeline, you build loyalty and affinity for your company

· When you ensure equity and opportunity, you minimize risk to your business and corporate reputation

One way we’re taking action even beyond our firm at Weber Shandwick is through our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion specialty unit that helps companies communicate their DEI goals to increase representation and acceptance within their organizations. This specialty group works across practices to ensure clients are tackling important issues that will help advance DEI strategies, which leads to a more engaged, empowered and inclusive employee network.

Implementing DEI as a business strategy will not be an easy feat, but at the same time, PR practitioners aren’t drawn to this field because the work is easy. This is about a shift in mindset, thinking about representation and diversity problems as everyday problems. It’s time that our industry put the same amount of energy into evolving our culture and challenging ourselves for the better.

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