Building Diversity Pipelines takes Buy-In, Training and Constant Reassessment

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While women make up nearly 70% of PR professionals, the communications industry is far from diverse. In fact, 67% of PR employees are white, leaving much to be desired in the way of racial diversity.

Following George Floyd’s murder in 2020, companies large and small made a number of diversity-related pledges, with CEOs from large U.S. companies vowing to hire one million Black Americans over the next 10 years through the OneTen coalition. (In its first year, the coalition made 17,000 hires; the organization has not released its 2022 figures as of press time.)

There is still significant work to be done across industries, especially as the recent spate of layoffs has also not been equal. While DEI-related roles increased 55% following calls for racial justice in 2020, the attrition rate for these roles was 33%, compared with 21% for non-DEI roles, according to Revelio Labs.

Many recent reports have also shown the empty promises of diversity pledges, with some commitments being quietly stripped out of company budgets.

In other instances, there has been progress—just not enough.

For those organizations that truly plan to increase their diversity efforts, there’s often a lack of intentional processes that work to both recruit and advance women and underrepresented communities in the workplace. Success can only be realized once retention is high among these groups.

"Companies looking to start a [diversity] pipeline should look at auditing their current culture to make sure that if recruitment pipelines convert to jobs, there is a culture that will keep and retain the employees," points out Kristelle Siarza, CEO of Siarza and a member of The Change Agencies.

To be intentional, organizations must “create pathways to leadership for diverse communications professionals,” says Tyler Perry, co-CEO of Mission North, which recently partnered with the PRSA Foundation and other agencies to create fellowship opportunities focused on underrepresented PR and communications college students.

The initiative, Foster the Future, aims to provide the opportunity to gain work experience while offsetting some of the financial burdens of tuition and other education expenses.

Creating Opportunity

With lack of relevant work experience creating a barrier for entry-level candidates securing a first job, the four agencies behind Foster the Future (LaunchSquad, Method, Agean PR and Mission North) are awarding scholarships and a six-week paid internship that teaches the fundamentals of PR, as well as “exposes the Fellow to professional skills that can accelerate career paths, including business fundamentals, networking and presentation skills,” says Perry. Many are also offering a fellowship stipend to offset any costs incurred to take an internship (if the student has an ongoing job, or needs to secure dependent care, etc.)

In other areas, experts recommend removing unnecessary requirements from job descriptions, especially education requirements, if they’re not really needed. This skills-first approach has proven to create a more diverse workplace. A joint report by Accenture and Opportunity@Work, for example, shows that millions of Black employees without four-year degrees have the skills for better paid roles.

Thus, there’s an opportunity for agencies and other companies to build more diverse pipelines to include those who may not have had the traditional career trajectory.

Identifying the Gaps

For organizations that have just begun to build out diversity pipelines, start by understanding the impetus behind doing so, as well as understanding where the company’s representation and commitment gaps are, advises DEI professional Daniela Herrera.

It’s critical that companies looking to build a pipeline and improve their representation understand what diversity means to them. One mistake Herrera has seen often is “companies sourcing and interviewing ‘diverse talent’ without an actual inclusive process in place” or recruitment teams asked to hire so-called diverse teams “but given no instruction, tools, or resources to do so.”

At Clyde Group, Cash Taylor, VP of Talent and Culture, completed an internal audit of the organization’s compliance and best practices based on core HR functional areas. From there, the team created a strategic plan, which included a talent acquisition pillar.

"We have begun to fine tune not only how we reach diverse candidates, but we also identified key behaviors that align with proven performance success," says Taylor. "We focus our candidate assessment process around these key behaviors for both our active opportunities and building our pipelines."  

Getting Buy-In

Buy-in for these programs from the existing workforce "is crucial to attracting, successfully hiring, onboarding and retaining diverse talent,” says Marjani Williams, Vice President, DEI and Client Service, G&S Business Communications. “In-house teams should be coordinating efforts to train the existing workforce so it’s clear that DEI is a priority.”

But in many cases, she adds, employees aren’t given clear direction on how they can be supportive and empowered to reach out to their own extended networks to help spread the word. While companies should, and often do, create recruiting materials that show representation, they should also share these materials with employees so that they can easily amplify the message of their workplaces.

It's also critical to engage with affinity groups and community spaces, adds Siarza.

And, if you don’t already have diverse talent in your company, it’s important to look closely at the existing culture and structure of the organization to understand where the barriers have been in an effort to remove them, Williams points out. Ask:

  • Do you need to adjust your organizational structure?
  • Are you prepared to retain new talent?
  • Is your hiring practice inherently racist?

Moving Forward through Partnerships

Companies should look to their existing employees and partners to identify gaps, says Williams.

Once the gaps are identified, companies can partner with organizations that specialize in bridging the gap between talent and companies, which can include HBCUs, professional organizations and affinity groups.

Within the communications industry specifically, this might include professional organizations like PROI or local PRSA and PRSSA chapters. Siarza also advises looking at trade or professional organizations "that have a focus on the skill with a common lens of culture," such as the Native American Journalists Association or Black Public Relations Society, for example.

It's also helpful to enlist specialist recruiting firms. Clyde Group, for instance, works with minority-owned Bridge Partners, which helps to ensure its searches are truly inclusive.

The agency has also signed up for career fairs on Handshake, cold-called career centers and posted jobs on sites such as Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA) and Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). Clyde's IDEA (Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, Accountability) working group also includes a number of subcommittees, including an Education and Affinity Group (EAG), which is led by a full-time hire who created a shared journalism internship between Southern Jewish Life and The Birmingham Times, in partnership with Miles College. 

"We're hoping it will help us to focus on building relationships with a smaller list of schools, alumnae organizations and affinity organizations that not only create immediate pipelines but will allow us to introduce PR and comms to secondary students who might not normally have the subjects available to them," says Taylor.

Recruitment Training

Recruiters need to be trained in a number of areas to achieve these goals, says Herrera, in order to expand and improve their sourcing strategies and craft inclusive job descriptions that actually connect and attract the talent they’d like to hire.

This includes ensuring all interviewing, hiring, onboarding practices and systems be inclusive, equitable and accessible, which may involve re-designing outdated systems and processes, training interviewers and hiring managers and re-assessing existing technologies and platforms.

While training in and of itself is the easy part, due to to many resources available, the challenge, admits Herrera, is “pausing, reviewing and analyzing” the systems and “creating accountability systems to ensure these efforts are not a ‘nice to have’ but a must moving forward.”

While these efforts will look different for every company, Herrera has a few suggestions for a recruitment team to implement fairly easily:

  • Ensure sure that all job descriptions and candidate communications are written in plain and inclusive language.
  • Remove unnecessary requirements from job descriptions, especially education requirements, if they’re not really needed.
  • Openly share salary ranges in job descriptions, even if you’re not located in a salary transparency state.
  • Make sure that your company website and job application forms are accessible.
  • Use closed captioning in all your company page videos.
  • Use alt-text in all the images on your company website, email communications, presentations, one-sheeters, etc.
  • If relying upon AI technology to source and identify candidates, understand how the algorithm works and the candidates the platform tends to favor.
  • Connect with online communities that elevate talent from historically excluded communities and share your job opportunities with them.
  • Post jobs where the talent is, instead of where it is convenient for the recruiter.

“Agencies are looking in less-traditional places for talent [with] transferable skills,” says Williams. And, many of these skills are attained by working, not necessarily through a four-year degree.

Measuring Success

Companies working to improve representation in their workforce should be transparent about where they are now, where they want to be and how they plan to get there,” says Williams.

While the Clyde Group tracks diversity of candidates receiving offers, diversity of managers, and turnover, the agency also conducts listening sessions, pay and promotion equity audits and captures exit feedback, says Taylor.

The easiest and fastest way to determine whether a diversity recruitment strategy is effective is to consistently look at the data, says Herrera. Ask:

  • How many people from historically excluded communities were contacted and how?
  • How many were interviewed?
  • How many of them moved through the process and how many were hired?
  • How long are they staying with the company?

“Something else that’s quite telling,” adds Herrera, “is whether the company decides to share its data, openly, transparently, and consistently….It’s always a great idea to focus on progress over perfection.”

William agrees. “The hiring and cultural systems within companies weren’t built overnight; companies can make the mistake of expecting overnight success from their DEI efforts,” she says, advising that organizations take the time to re-adjust their strategies rather than give up.

She adds, “It will take time, resources and a sincere commitment to build a solid foundation that leads to sustained growth and change.”