Five Ways to Move the Diversity Needle Forward

Change is mandatory for brands and organizations that are serious about greater diversity and inclusion. And change is hard, as you know. But today it’s no longer an option—it is a business imperative. If communicators at brands, agencies and organizations seek to garner additional revenue, innovate more, recruit and retain top performers, they must move the diversity needle.

Businesses that reflect the communities they serve earn 30 percent more than their competition, according to a McKinsey study. In PR—whose lifeblood rests on innovation and creativity—input from a diverse workforce can be a differentiator. Creating a culture that supports the needs and best interests of everyone will result in a workplace where all can perform.

Changing Opinions and Biases

Creating a diverse culture requires several things. The biggest contributor is viewpoint. Each of us has a set of opinions and biases that influence our relationships with diverse colleagues.

Changing opinions and biases is far from easy. It takes patience and persistence. Each of us needs to be aware of how we see people. Admittedly it’s difficult to see someone without making assumptions about them based on our perception of their education, culture, sexual orientation, socioeconomic station, political affiliation and more. When we do this it’s clear we are saying more about us than about them.

This type of bias sends a message about who is welcome and unwelcome. For example, if a person of color receives a negative vibe she may not only feel alienated and unwanted but probably will be unable to work to her potential. In addition, she will fail to reach the position and compensation strata she deserves. The best people will leave.

Bias Training

Taking part in implicit bias training can help people recognize and change such behavior. Participants examine their viewpoints on diversity and work on leveling the playing field emotionally and practically.

Covert Resistance and H.R.

A popular excuse is that PR pros from certain groups are hard to find. Another is that diversity takes time. These comments are code for corporate resistance to diversity. There are many gifted, diverse PR specialists available. In PR, we have been talking about diversity and inclusion for decades, but we still remain woefully behind other industries.

One way to jumpstart diversity is to let H.R. know that if it is unable to fill positions with diverse applicants, then those jobs will remain open. Watch what happens when you say that.

Diversity and the C-Suite

Another fast-track solution is injecting greater diversity in the C-Suite. Diversity trickles down to the rank and file. Simply put—diversity should start at the top. Some options:

* Put your money where your mouth is. Companies must make it financially rewarding for senior executives to hire and promote diverse employees.

* Offer equal pay for equal work. This is relatively simple. For example, women in PR are notoriously underpaid compared to their male counterparts. Even wider is the gap for black and Hispanic women, an average of $9,000 per year. Change is needed.

* Make your diversity data public. Periodic review of these numbers encourages companies to shine a light on staff composition and improve it.

If PR is to flourish and compete against disciplines such as advertising, diversity is essential. PR’s success and diversity are bound together, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it.  Should we continue to delay, it will come back to bite us.

Sharon Fenster is president of PRSA-NY  and founder of Fenster Communications.  Follow her: @SharonDFenster