Wordnerdery Sue Horner’s monthly tips on words and ways to reach readers – October 2021

Issue 104 – October 2021

how comms and pr people can make a difference to diversity

“It’s not too much to ask for support for people who look like us, love like us, pray like us.” – Katrina Marshall
The Diversity in PR conference was created by A Leader Like Me.

Does your organization look “male, pale and stale” at the top? The Diversity in PR conference I attended this month featured multiple perspectives on what can be done about it.

You know this, but having a diverse team makes good business sense. “Increased diversity and inclusion lead to a greater ability to attract high-quality talent, serve customers’ needs, and develop more innovative products,” as panelist Loretta Lam said in an article for IABC/Toronto last year.

But as Loretta pointed out during the conference, “Most of us are in Diversity 1.0.” We may be putting money into training, hosting Black History Month or holding Pride events, but that’s just checking off boxes. Moving to Diversity 2.0 is the hard part. That’s where leaders treat Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) the same way they treat other business strategies, by setting and tracking clear, measurable, time-bound goals.

Make sure it’s baked into your business strategy, not just sprinkled on top, the panelists pointed out. “Otherwise it’s just talk, talk, talk.”

The good news is that “It’s all about being better than we were yesterday,” in the words of Advita Patel, co-founder of A Leader Like Me and chair of the conference. The following tips come from the mix of panel discussions and presentations over the day.

Start by looking at your numbers. “If it gets measured, it gets noticed,” said Katrina Marshall, journalist and founding member of the UK’s Public Relations and Communications Association Race Ethnicity and Equity Board.

Your executives may say diverse talent isn’t out there, but you know they are. What’s stopping them from applying?

  • Look at your recruiting process. Are you only hiring from certain universities or your “old boys’ network”? Do you have recruiters who only hire people who look like them because that’s what they think you want? Do you look outside without trying to fill an opening internally?
  • Don’t expect those who don’t look like you to come to you. Go find the schools where students study PR. Find out if where the blockage is and clear it.
  • Look at your job descriptions. Asking for “excellent spoken and written English” may discourage someone who is qualified for the job but for whom English is a second language.
  • Think about your unconscious biases. “If you won’t allow a Black man with dreads and a grill to date your lily White daughter, you likely won’t hire him either.” – Katrina
Young PR practitioners at the conference discuss what they expect from employers.

You’ve hired some diverse candidates, but they don’t stay. Why not?

  • How are diverse candidates treated? Are they welcomed and included in meetings and projects, or do they leave or under-perform because they aren’t?
  • Look at how or if you support diverse employees. Do you provide a safe environment for everyone to be their true selves? Do you listen to their opinions and recommendations? “It’s not too much to ask for support for people who look like us, love like us, pray like us.” – Katrina
  • Do you have an internal pipeline to move candidates up through the ranks? What’s stopping junior people from advancing? Do you help everyone gain leadership skills so they can move up the ladder? Be intentional about mentoring and coaching.
  • Look at how or if you gather feedback. Do you hold exit interviews to understand what’s happening in your own culture?

Other practical tips for making a difference:

  • When communicating, keep your DE&I cap on. Recognize that your audience may not all experience life the same way you do.
  • Consult with and include diverse voices from the beginning, don’t just ask for a review and sign-off after other people have done the work.
  • Help non-minorities understand the challenges of being in a minority through reverse mentoring.
  • Be an ally. Leave the “footprints” others can step into. Speak up for others. Shine a light on their achievements. Elevate the voices you don’t typically hear.
  • Think about accessibility for employees with disabilities or physical challenges. On videos, use captions for those who are hard of hearing.
  • Commit to change if you don’t have much diversity on your top team.
  • Listen. Talk to employees. Ask, “How can we do better?” Don’t be defensive if something’s brought to your attention.
  • Tell people about things you’re trying to change, recognizing that you won’t always get it right. Ask for comment. Act on suggestions. Build trust.

Speaker Jane Brearley, a self-described “middle-aged White woman” with “massive privilege,” shared her own experience that led to founding UK-based Intent Health. With no Black employees on her team, she was still “genuinely surprised” not to win a campaign about sickle cell disease, which most commonly affects Black people. Since then, she’s built a team that is ethnically diverse and represents the LGBTQ+ and disabled communities. The result is an agency she says brims with life experience, conversations and creative ideas for clients.

The challenge thrown out by moderator Jefferson Darrell, founder of diverse supplier Breakfast Culture, was this:

What are YOU doing to effect change?

Related reading:

From "Ask the DEI expert," why you can’t just check a box and move on.

The opportunity that diversity and inclusion present to Canadian business

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