Diversity is just the beginning

Among the PR industry's ranks are some of the most masterful communicators in the world.

Among the PR industry's ranks are some of the most masterful communicators in the world. As practitioners, we pride ourselves on abilities to craft a narrative and piece words together with precision to convey a desired message. We hang our hats on honed skills of being able to create and infuse meaning and resonance into almost anything – a cup of coffee, a computer chip, a company. When we are good at what we do, things become brands and they speak with a distinct voice and a defined message.

So, I'm compelled to ask – as we consider how good the PR industry can be at what it does - why is its diversity brand still largely undefined and its message still unclear? It has been a while since I have heard anyone in PR deny the need for greater diversity in the industry overall and, in particular, at agencies. Most of us seem to recognize it. However, as we have embarked on the journey from understanding to action, we've at times found ourselves bobbing in an ocean of idleness along the way.  

How do we define diversity so that we can move beyond the stagnation of simply recognizing the need for it and begin to more actively develop and implement plans to achieve it in a sustained, impactful way?

Let's start with a fairly simple concept. At its core, diversity refers to baseline representation of talent – that is, the numbers. Having ample talent diversity – both visible and not – is necessary for organizations to innovate and perform at peak. It helps ensure that enough backgrounds, skills, experiences, and perspectives are always at the table to generate new ideas and to develop the best solutions. As defined through a US lens, that representation has primarily included race, gender, disability, and sexual orientation, as well as several other demographic variables such as age, religion, and nationality.

However, while visibly diverse talent should be represented at all levels of an organization – with ethnicity as a core demographic focus for the PR industry – this is not an appeal for a casting call. Yes, the PR industry still has significant work to do in achieving diversity, but true diversity isn't about box-checking, compliance requirements, or quotas. It's also not about feel-good melting pots and surface-level collaboration. Differences bring an unparalleled depth and power of perspective to organizations and the clients they serve. They should be leveraged and maximized, not downplayed.

As PR organizations work to develop more initiatives focused on recruitment and pipeline efforts to increase their talent diversity, they must also realize that this representation can only be maintained if cultivated within an environment that embraces, supports, and values it.  Diversity is just the beginning. Inclusion gives it meaning.

Latraviette Smith has spent almost 15 years in agency corporate, consumer and multicultural PR, as well as marketing roles. Her column will focus on the PR industry's ongoing efforts to advance diversity among its ranks at all levels. She can be reached at latraviette@gmail.com.

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