We all need to be diversity champions

Pat Ford, 2016 Diversity Distinction in PR Awards winner, underscores the opportunity all in the industry have to move the needle on diversity and inclusion

The PR profession has made significant strides toward building a more diverse and inclusive field, but more must be done to achieve the goal of making our profession reflect the diverse communities we serve. PR’s leaders must have a shared sense of urgency, a strong bias for action, and a willingness to learn from each other, especially about successful initiatives that are making a difference at various companies and agencies. 

This is why the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards, presented by the PR Council in partnership with PRWeek, are so vitally important. I was honored to serve as a judge last year (save the category for which I was nominated). The quality of the entries was encouraging. Creative thinking abounded, but so did a demonstrated commitment to making sustainable changes to companies’ operations to promote diversity and inclusion in recruitment and retention. 

I am very optimistic this year because I have seen evidence of great programs at client companies and other agencies that were not even entered last year. Here’s hoping we see more entries in every category this year. This program isn’t just about winning an award. It highlights action, not just rhetoric.

That last point is important. Having spent a good deal of time working on D&I initiatives, I have been struck by the number of times I hear frustration coming from diverse talent about what they perceive to be years of empty talk and little progress. And the clock is ticking.

"Our diversity challenge in the PR profession," my colleague Mike Fernandez said in a recent speech, "needs to move beyond the theory… and all the studies… and our best intentions. It needs to be about our practice – or our very practice, as PR professionals, will suffer. If we do not move more quickly to provide a hand-up to our diverse talent, our very remit to communicate might be compromised by an inability to relate to the very publics we intend to reach."

Among the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards are two "Diversity Champion" categories. I was profoundly moved to be named Diversity Champion for the agency side last year. This offered validation of my efforts to advance this cause. More importantly, it provides a platform on which to build in the future. That said, I must note that any such individual award is much more about the overall team.

We all need to be diversity champions every day, and we need to reflect this in every aspect of our business. It’s not a spare-time undertaking. Diversity is everybody’s business. Even as we compete for talent, we must acknowledge that we are all in this together.

So how can you be a true diversity champion? Allow me to share five thoughts:

Set ambitious goals and measure progress on a regular basis. PR Council President Renee Wilson likes to remind us about the old adage: you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Focus on developing top diverse talent at every level. Commit to ongoing mentoring and leadership development, especially for those who move into PR from other fields – as we strive to seed our senior ranks with diverse backgrounds. This means we must turn to leaders from other backgrounds because of the dearth of diversity in our senior ranks. We need to make special efforts to recruit such talent and then go the extra mile in helping with their transition.

Address unconscious bias. One takeaway from reviewing the award submissions last year was that more companies and organizations in our profession are doing this through training and other initiatives. In one case, an agency developed a special recruitment app that is designed in part to overcome unconscious bias.

Listen! Spend time on meaningful dialogue with our diverse talent. We are all busy, but there are 168 hours in a week. Even the busiest among us can spare some time mentoring diverse talent. The ROI on that investment is profound.

Emphasize action. Talking about support for diversity and inclusion without a strong bias for action and a sense of urgency makes it a hollow promise. I’ve seen great resolve among many PR leaders who share a genuine commitment to make this happen. Join them.

Pat Ford, worldwide vice chair and chief client officer at Burson-Marsteller, was named Diversity Champion – PR Agency as part of the 2016 Diversity Distinction in PR Awards.

The PR Council and PRWeek encourage you to enter for the 2017 Diversity Distinction in PR Awards. Check back on prweek.com in mid- to late-April for all the details.

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