The power of "and"

Diversity and inclusion are not synonymous. They are interdependent and they are fluid. One refers to the subject - the talent base. The other is rooted in action. These concepts are powerful independently, but they can be transformational together.

Diversity. Inclusion. Two separate words. Two distinct concepts.

Now consider diversity and inclusion. The phrase itself connotes diversity plus, in addition to, with, and as well as inclusion. However, when joined together, they are often viewed as one idea, notion, or static goal to aspire to and ultimately say, “We've arrived.” But this journey is ongoing and there is never a defined point of arrival that can signal the end of either pursuit. Here's why. 

Diversity and inclusion are not synonymous. They are interdependent and they are fluid. One refers to the subject – the talent base. The other is rooted in action – fostering an environment in which diversity is not only respected, but expected, encouraged, and maximized for its cultural and business impact. These concepts are powerful independently, but they can be transformational together.  

With women making up approximately two-thirds of PR professionals, the argument could be made that the PR industry has “arrived” regarding gender diversity. However, once we peel back the surface layer, we see the disparities in advancement to senior levels – as well as compensation – between women and men in the industry. We recognize that we operate under mostly male-dominated leadership teams.

Many of us have also heard – and experienced – similar stories across the industry of the precise allegations that now threaten MSLGroup with a class action lawsuit for its reported treatment of female employees. So while the industry numbers may point to overall gender diversity, the issues confronting us indicate that we have yet to merge onto the road to inclusion.

In addition to increasing diversity overall, especially at senior levels, there is an opportunity for the PR industry to begin addressing the culture and behaviors that are counter to maintaining diversity. These behaviors can pose legal liabilities, but they can also contribute to the industry's quickly revolving door of talent, which can directly lead to lower-quality client service.  

Working to create an inclusive environment in which no one fears that their careers will be stalled because of biases – whether spoken or unspoken, conscious or unconscious – is critical to maintaining any traction gained in diversity. When people know it is safe and acceptable to culturally and intellectually bring their whole selves to the workplace, it can improve creativity, innovation, productivity, loyalty, morale, and client service. Simply put, inclusion is the current that helps power attraction, retention, development, and advancement – especially of top diverse talent.

Creating an inclusive culture requires an “and” approach as well. It doesn't sit as a function of any single “diversity and inclusion” team. Inclusion is the responsibility of everyone within an organization. It demands the partnership of executives, the heads of business/practice units, and managers at all levels, as well as other HR functions including talent management, training, and leadership development. It calls for both leadership and employees to be aware of and model the inclusive behaviors that reinforce their organizational values and goals. Indeed, inclusion takes a village – and continuous commitment.

I've often said that investing in diversity without a focus on inclusion is like buying a shiny new car with no engine. It may look nice from the outside, but it will never achieve what it was meant to do.

Latraviette Smith has spent almost 15 years in communications in agency corporate, consumer, and multicultural PR, as well as senior marketing roles. Her column will focus on the PR industry's ongoing efforts to advance diversity among its ranks at all levels. Connect with her via LinkedIn or at latraviette@gmail.com. 

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