Flexibility goes hand in hand with diversity

It's more than a box-ticking exercise; it can help companies retain the best talent and produce the best work possible.

The Guardian ran a story on 3 February about the producer of BBC1’s EastEnders, who risked criticism by rejecting calls at the Beeb for diversity targets and to "provide an authentic portrayal of modern life in Britain". Dominic Treadwell-Collins told the Radio Times: "As soon as someone starts imposing editorial decisions, we fight back, because we know what we’re doing. The day I start box-ticking is the day I leave."

An interesting dilemma for any organisation, business or body is finding the balance between living the values of diversity and being seen to do the right thing or even tokenism.

This view of ‘ticking the box’ will have a negative impact in the long run, whether that’s from a credibility point of view or whether it’s right for the business or the organisation. Diversity encompasses acceptance, respect and understanding that each individual is unique. It’s the exploration of these differences in a safe and positive environment that enables us to move beyond tolerance to embracing the rich dimensions of diversity.

There are many elements relating to the PR industry that ­impact diversity, particularly from a gender perspective. It’s no surprise to anyone that the industry is heavily female focused yet men largely hold the majority of senior positions.

Pay ­levels too can vary, as can career longevity. I suspect this is a major issue for agencies balancing the need for experienced PR practitioners and the reality that maternity leave and childcare become prime concerns for many at a certain level of their career or age. There is no reason a working mother can’t reach the top ­without ­compromising herself or her family. Likewise men should be supported if they wish to spend time with their families.

As a client I am always supportive of flexibility within ­agencies to retain the best talent. Whether they are calling me from home or the office is no concern as long as I’m clear on their availability and their teams. I believe that technology is the driving factor enabling people to be flexible, accessible and committed despite location or personal life. Giving men and women an equal chance of reaching the career opportunities they want or deserve is key. Supporting them, coaching them and looking at the big picture can keep people motivated.

Life expectancy is growing and our careers are longer. The two areas the PR industry can excel in are flexibility and trust. Flexible working based on key deliverables and trust based on the individual, whose motivation will be enhanced when there is a proper work-life balance and a purpose to their role.

PR recruitment is not just for the young but a fine balance bet­ween age and experience vs youth and relevancy to millennial culture. Both are equally important. Diversity plays a key role in how agencies are structured and how clients view them. Open and transparent relationships encourage both sides to appreciate differences. It’s the exploration of these differences and emb­racing the individuals who enable organisations to thrive that brings meaning and rich dimensions to the people and the work.

Joan O’Connor is head of brand PR, Coca-Cola North West Europe and Nordics

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