Real solutions for tackling diversity issues

SXSW is an example for PR and many other industries of how to approach diversity.

Tomorrow afternoon, Jesse Jackson will headline a featured session, "Innovating Diversity and Inclusion in Tech." And late yesterday, I attended "Beyond the Diversity Data: Strategies that Work."

PRWeek has long sought to shine a light on the diversity and inclusion issues that plague the comms industry. This event's presenters, though focused on the tech sector, shared some deep insights that everyone in PR should take to heart.

For starters, this isn't merely an issue that is rectified by hiring people of diverse backgrounds, said Freada Kapor Klein, partner at Kapor Capital, the VC investment arm of the Kapor Center for Social Impact. Too often, she adds, such employees are given tasks that don't allow them to hone and showcase the skills that allow them to advance.

Anita Collins, program manager for diversity and inclusion at Twitter, poignantly noted, "Diversity needs to be a team sport." Setting up diversity shops might seem to be a good step, but it only goes to further create silos and, thus, fails to change organizational culture.

She added that Twitter, in particular, takes this issue to heart.

"If you claim to want to reach everyone on the planet," she explained, "you must have everyone on the planet represented at your company."

Lisa Lee, diversity program manager at Pandora, put the onus on diverse employees. She explained that many people worry about whether diversity initiatives are born of the right intentions. While she fully appreciates that sentiment, Lee emphasized the opportunity must not be ignored.

"The conversations about diversity are happening now," she said. "The door is open. Walk through it. And then if something isn't authentic, you can make it authentic."

Maria Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino, used data to underscore the bottom-line relevance of diversity and inclusion.

"Every eight seconds, a Baby Boomer retires," she shared. "The median age of the Latino community is 14. These are your employees of the near- and long-term."

Kumar, who is attending her fourth SXSW, proudly reported that the 2015 crowd easily represented the most diverse attendee group she had seen at the event. That is just another sign of how much the focus of SXSW has broadened in recent years. It provides a worthy model for the PR industry - and all sectors for that matter - to emulate.

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