The only one in the room: How organizations and employees can improve diversity

Diversity isn't just having more women or people of color in the room. It means professionals from different socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, political and religious beliefs, and even physical abilities.

Francisca Fanucchi and Nicol Addison (r).
Francisca Fanucchi and Nicol Addison (r).

Let us begin by telling you a story about being the only one in the room.

When we first began working together, we traveled to the headquarters of a former employer for a regular communications team meeting. We were the new team members from the satellite office and traveled to headquarters to get face time with our new colleagues. It was your typical PR meeting, full of planning, brainstorming, and budget talk; nothing out of the ordinary. As we walked out of the meeting, we both paused and shared a moment. It was that moment we realized we were the only ones in the room.

We should mention one of us is African-American and the other Mexican. It was astonishing that except for us, this homogenous team of PR practitioners was making decisions on global campaigns without the diversity that would make the messages and programs effective around the world. Our shared moment wasn’t based on being lonely, but the reality that better marketing and PR happen when you have people who can offer varying perspectives for the numerous audiences they serve.

We both agree, diversity is not just having more women or people of color in the room; it’s bigger than that. If it’s going to be true diversity, it should include professionals who can offer perspectives that reflect the melting pot of humanity. True diversity includes race and gender, but also the people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations and identities, ages, along with different political and religious beliefs and physical abilities.

It was easy for us to appreciate how successful diverse teams can be. Our mentor and boss has successfully created and sustained extremely diverse teams throughout his career. Our current team includes two men and three women. Our other team members are a Korean-American woman, a male native of Scotland, and a gay man.

But we’re not just diverse in the way we look or the way in which we speak. We’re also diverse in terms of our backgrounds, in-house and agency roles and careers, and broad job responsibilities on a team doing what we consider the "new frontier" of PR – media work, content marketing, storytelling and storyboarding, social, customer references, and analyst and influencer relations.

As background, we’re part of his team because we both have extensive comms and PR experience, not simply because we offer "diversity." We’ve managed technology, consumer, b-to-b, pop-culture, advertising, and sports communications. What we’ve learned from him about championing diversity is that it’s not just hiring people because they are diverse. It’s more about hiring qualified people and allowing their diverse experiences and differences to be an asset in how they view the world and tackle challenges.

So what can we share from what we’ve learned and our past experiences? How can the community of comms professionals create more diverse teams to the benefit of their organizations, clients and audiences? Well, it has to be tackled from both the organization and the employee sides.

For organizations, it’s about:

The opportunity
Organizations must give diverse individuals the opportunity for positions and growth. We were both emotionally moved by Viola Davis’ words during her Emmy acceptance speech, "The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity." The first step for organizations is to offer the opportunity.

You can do this with a formal diversity program or diversity training. And you can also just do this simply by asking your employees to proactively share their thoughts on programs before consensus thoughts have emerged and explore their ideas with additional dialogue.

Be mindful
Organizations must be aware of the various cultures and individuals that we all are. When cultivating teams, setting goals, and building for future initiatives, we all have to understand that it’s more than just "people like us." The world is too big not to be mindful of that fact.

Accept everyone
Leaders in organizations need to understand that employees aren’t the same. Each person has distinct experiences that color their view. Be open to accepting and celebrating all the vibrancy that different vantage points bring to the team.

Organizations aren’t the only ones that can drive diversity. Those of us who have felt like the only one in the room are also responsible for creating change ourselves.

Step up
We have to step up, too. We must be ready for the challenge. The old adage of having to be twice as good may be unfair, but it is often the truth. Own your own performance – even at an elevated level.

Be uncomfortable
Realize that sometimes it will be uncomfortable - change often is - but that doesn’t mean you give up. Have real, but respectful, conversations when faced with diversity issues. Share your thoughts and feelings. Share the stories and experiences that have shaped your views. Others won’t know what makes "you" if you sublimate your diversity to be just like everyone else.

Don’t assume. We all make assumptions about people’s motives in the workplace. Try not to when it comes to diversity. Someone’s perceived hostility may be stress or any number of factors. Educate colleagues on your experiences and what shapes your beliefs, and educate yourself about theirs.

Be confident
Embrace where you come from, believe in your ideas, and deliver them with pride. Confidence goes a long way. Your colleagues want to hear from you - participate and provide your unique value.

At Lithium, we can look at each other and know we’re not the only ones in the room anymore. The PR world is growing and changing. We’re excited to play a role in that.

Nicol Addison is director of corporate communications at Lithium Technologies, where Francisca Fanucchi is senior PR manager.

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