Typically, in the US, we observe Black History Month each February. For many reasons, 2021 cannot be just another year. In the middle of a pandemic that has impacted every aspect of our lives, we also endured continued civil unrest, the Black Lives Matters movement, a political insurrection and economic decline.
At the core is the scar of racism and how we deal with it. We need solutions that will tackle issues, not color over them with slogans and moments of activism. In addition, we must turn moments into movements that will recognize and enable the potential of all.
By 2050, more than half of US workers and consumers will be people of color, according to the 2018 "Business Case for Racial Equity Issue" by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. However, the current demographic makeup of the U.S. PR industry is: 83.3 percent white, 11.0 percent African American, 3.4 percent Asian American and 13.6 percent Hispanic American.
The amount of diverse leadership in PR decreases as you go up the ladder.
As PR pros, we have the responsibility to tell stories of Americans’ lived experiences through images and messages. In addition, we have a duty to lead the journey to end systemic racism. We have a stake in creating more equitable communities.
Authentic and diverse communication is needed. This calls for messaging from those who've lived these experiences. Recruitment, development and retention of Black communicators is vital to bring new concepts and ideas to the table. To create sustained allyship, the industry must move beyond 28 days in February to understand audiences and Black colleagues.
It starts from within.
Acknowledge and Identify
Dismantling institutionalized structures of racism within your company requires talking directly about race and racism. Some requirements might need adjustment.
For example, our background and upbringing shape our opportunity for education and employment. It is possible that some Black college students do not study communication because they are unaware of its benefits, how it fits into policy change and the role it plays in sustaining activism. Companies might want to consider this when recruiting.
Leadership is another area for consideration. Given the lack of Black PR leaders, there are limited opportunities for mentorship from someone who looks like us. Sometimes there's just one Black PR pro at the table. As such, there's a long line to get a mentor.
Put time and effort into listening to our experiences and ask for Black perspectives when making business decisions. Being intentional about listening leads to deeper understanding. Many of us are quiet in meetings. Sometimes we are not eager to speak up because we do not feel our voices are heard, acted upon or needed.
We are not a façade.
We are lived experiences.
We are of value.
Recently, I had a positive experience in this area. Being on a diverse team led to my ability to address diverse and unique approaches to reaching people in need of health solutions customized to their backgrounds and needs.
Seek to Empower
Creating an equitable work environment can start with elevating Black employees to leadership positions. As a Black PR executive, I was empowered to step into leadership roles. This has led to further growth opportunities. It also allows me to mentor Black PR pros, who, I hope, will also have the chance to flourish and grow.
When it comes to retention and growth, it’s important to have clear criteria when considering advancement. In addition, it's important to mentor employees for their current role while preparing them for leadership positions.
Addressing the value of Black people beyond one month in a year can expand and grow opportunities for increasing representation in the industry. As responsible communicators, we must go beyond optical allyship. We need to share diverse experiences and forge the way to end systemic racism.
What is your level of intention for Black people year round?
Ariane Lovell is VP, health media relations, Finn Partners and a board member and chair of mentorship programs at the Black PR Society NY. Follow her: @thenycprgirl