Why the PR Industry’s D&I Efforts Matter Now

It is not a secret that PR has struggled to maintain a diverse workforce.

Employee health and safety, of course, are the highest priorities at the moment. Accordingly, internal communicators are sending a plethora of health and safety messages to employees. Health and safety is the most-communicated topic, a survey says. On the other hand, the survey reports just 19 percent of companies are sending diversity & inclusion (D&I) content at this moment.

It's important not to let the pandemic erase D&I gains PR has made – protecting employee health and well-being while promoting D&I are, in fact, mutually supportive. COVID-19 has not only shone a glaring spotlight on the many inequities affecting marginalized communities, but exacerbated them.

Why does D&I matter? The business case is well known. A 2018 McKinsey study of 1,000 global companies found that increased gender and ethnic diversity is clearly and directly correlated with profitability. In fact, companies with greater diversity experienced a 33 percent increase in performance.

Sobering Statistics

The US PR industry is 87.9 percent white, 8.3 percent African American, 2.6 percent Asian American, and 5.7 percent Hispanic American, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Contrast this with the fact that almost 40 percent of our country’s population is not Caucasian.  Demographic trends indicate this percentage is steadily increasing.

Diversity, of course, doesn’t begin and end with skin color or ethnicity. In addition, D&I should address gender, country of origin, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, orientation, political beliefs, etc.

Diversity of Thought

The key is encouraging and promoting diversity of thought. Diverse teams inherently embody a wider array of lived experiences, which then directly contributes to a greater multiplicity and richness of innovative ideas and problem-solving solutions.

For creative fields like PR, the difference between a winning and losing (even disastrous) campaign can rest on the strength of a single groundbreaking idea or the unchallenged folly of a tone-deaf one. The bottom line is that it’s bad for your team’s bottom line to exist within a hollow echo chamber. With the number of decisions being taken at the moment, a tone-deaf approach could be disastrous.

In an increasingly diverse society, Millennials are expecting more from companies and brands, including true representation. In a globalized world, corporate clients and prospects increasingly value and prioritize vendor diversity – they want their PR teams to be able to effectively communicate and target messages to different audiences.

The Importance of Intentionality and Talent

Efforts to encourage and promote greater diversity must have intentionality. Checking arbitrary boxes won't work. How can we make further strides on an industry macro-level and an organizational micro-level?

It starts with talent. We must open up recruiting methods and broaden access.  Cultivate relationships with a diverse array of colleges and student groups.

For example, if you notice that most of your entry-level employees come from wealthy east coast suburbs, focus on recruiting from varied circumstances and regions nationwide, as well as abroad.

Mentoring and Diversity

Let’s talk about sponsorship and mentorship. We know how pivotal having the right sponsor or mentor can help guide career development. The best kind of mentorships occur organically. Rather than assigning someone a manager or mentor, perhaps see who junior-level employees seem to gravitate to the most – then ask employees about their preference and formalize it.

In addition, regularly check your implicit, unconscious biases. It is ingrained human nature to be drawn to people who remind us of us – but the more aware and cognizant we are about our biases, the more we can work to overcome them.

For example, ask why you are drawn to mentoring a person. Is it because they remind you of yourself or share a background similar to yours?  Instead, share your networks with those who may not look and think exactly like you, but who could benefit from your networks and resources.

Engaging in D&I efforts has intrinsic and extrinsic value, with evidence pointing toward corresponding gains made in employee engagement, retention rates, recruitment success, company culture, and financial performance. In the 21st century, particularly in the age of COVID-19, you must decide the kind of company you want to be and what ethos you want to embody and project.

Jenny Wang is a VP at Kglobal