Nonsense about regional offices making agencies 'diverse' needs to end

Diversity is a serious issue for public relations. If you're an agency with a regional office pretending this makes you diverse, please stop.

It's time to "call out bullshit" on diversity, argues Sarah Hall
It's time to "call out bullshit" on diversity, argues Sarah Hall
There’s a new trend in town and it’s not doing our industry any favours. People will always jump on a buzzword, but when it comes to diversity, it’s important to call out bullshit. 

So here it is: if you’ve opened an office in one of the regions or smaller home nations, and have claimed bragging rights for breaking out of the London bubble and reinvigorating the creativity of your team, please stop.
 
Anywhere further than the M25 motorway is not scattered with a special creative communications dust. 
Having a regional office gives you a regional presence. Pretending it achieves anything more is patronising at best, and detrimental to the industry at worst. 

Being based in the North makes professionals no more different to practitioners in the South; having a different accent doesn’t impinge on our skillset and it doesn’t give you a new string to your bow. 

We’ve probably trained in the same place as you and we’re also able to travel. 

You could hire us in London, if you really wanted. It doesn’t mean you’re recruiting differently at all. I can vouch for this – I’m a Northerner who splits her time between Newcastle and London. 
I’ve worked for a London agency with a regional network, North East consultancies and now have a virtual agency where geography isn’t a consideration. 

Our skillset, our delivery for clients and whether we best represent the people we serve is a much bigger concern. 

If you want to understand audiences, there are better ways to segment than purely by geographical patch and for a start, there’s plenty of technology around to help you listen. 

This persistent nonsense detracts from what is a damaging and so far unresolved problem for the public relations sector, which – as PR Week reported on January 12th – is perceived to be overwhelmingly ‘white, middle-class, ‘red-brick’ – university-educated people from London and the home counties’.

Data shows we might be better spread around the UK, but the white middle class badge certainly holds true. 

It detracts from the hard work of organisations like the Taylor Bennett Foundation, which is constantly fundraising in order to break down the barriers stopping BAME candidates finding work. 

It bypasses the burgeoning issue of social mobility, where public relations is a closed shop for those from a lower socio-economic background without the wealth and network to create opportunities. 

So please, next time the word diversity comes up, think about its true meaning and how you’re actually helping iron this problem out, not about how it might help you gain some extra column inches.

Sarah Hall is president-elect of the CIPR and founder of Sarah Hall Consulting

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