Master Class: How can you ensure your workforce is as diverse as the audience it targets?

Diversity can easily become a corporate buzzword - important to mention, but without deeper meaning. How do you make diversity meaningful in a corporate setting? And how do you promote that diversity?


Veronica Gutierrez

VP of corporate comms, Southern California Edison

Stephanie Howley

SVP of human resources, Cohn & Wolfe

Joanne Krell

VP of comms, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Cathy Renna

Managing partner, Renna Communications

Scott Widmeyer

Chairman and CEO, Widmeyer Communications

Diversity can easily become a corporate buzzword - important to mention, but without deeper meaning. How do you make diversity meaningful in a corporate setting? And how do you promote that diversity?

Southern California Edison serves some of the most diverse communities in the nation and has made it a priority to reflect and reach the 14 million customers we serve. We've differentiated ourselves in words and actions. This has been accomplished by integrating diversity and inclusion into business practices and ensuring customers have access to all we have to offer. We hire a diverse workforce, actively seek and support diverse suppliers, and support underserved populations through philanthropic efforts.

More important, we build lasting partnerships with the communities we serve through targeted outreach and customized messages. One of the most effective ways we do this is through the community forums we host across our service territory. We invite leaders from various community organizations to communicate how to best access our grants, programs, and services. Strong ethnic media relations and key partnerships allow us to educate and reach specific populations and increase the impact of our programs and services.

In addition, specific grassroots campaigns, borne at the employee level, help showcase the diversity of the company while including our staffers as valued team members. For example, we launched a commercial campaign featuring our own employees to offer customers money- and energy-saving tips. Our employees were so enthused about this program that more than 600 auditioned for spots in our English-, Spanish-, Vietnamese-, Cantonese-, Mandarin-, and Korean-language commercials.

While we celebrate our diversity accolades, we measure our success in our ability to embrace new ways of thinking and working to meet Southern California's growing energy needs. That's diversity and inclusion in action - and our workforce plays an integral role in such efforts.

Veronica Gutierrez, VP of corporate comms, Southern California Edison


Having a diverse workforce is imperative to the success of any PR agency trying to reach out to diverse audiences. However, the PR workforce does not currently represent the ethnic-minority community in the US. Therefore, the active recruitment and retention of multicultural talent in PR is necessary to create a diverse employee roster and ensure your agency is equipped to effectively engage all audiences.

The good news is there are many ways a company can recruit, develop, and retain diverse talent. One way to recruit diverse candidates is by partnering with organizations that foster diverse talent in the industry. For example, The Lagrant Foundation provides support for ethnic minority college students pursuing degrees in advertising, marketing, and PR with the goal of increasing the number of ethnic minorities employed in those fields. The organization provides agencies with candidates for internships and employment; students referred by Lagrant have been pre-screened and mentored by the foundation and make exceptional candidates. 

Developing multicultural staff is another important factor in ensuring a diverse workforce. One key way to do this is by encouraging staff to join professional groups such as the Hispanic Public Relations Association and the Black Public Relations Society. Another component is to establish a mentor program where high-ranking executives partner with junior staffers to guide them through their careers.

In 2010, the US Census Bureau reported that more than 30% of Americans belong to ethnic minority groups. These populations are expected to grow rapidly. It is imperative that changes in the population be reflected in the PR workforce industrywide. It's for these reasons that the recruitment of ethnic minorities into these fields is especially important. These recruitment, development, and retention strategies will help create an all-encompassing community where all audiences are reached.

Stephanie Howley, SVP of human resources, Cohn & Wolfe


There's a tendency for discussions about diversity to devolve into an abstract numbers game. But for an organization like the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, diversity is internalized into our culture and operations.

Inclusivity is woven into the fabric of who we are and what we do. With children of color over-represented among low-income children nationwide, and statistically less likely to enjoy the educational, nutritional, and financial conditions conducive to success, internal diversity is an essential tool for us. Thanks to a board and staff representative of the population whose success we seek, we gain a full range of immediately relevant knowledge, skills, insight, and experience. And we strengthen our credibility with policymakers and others.

But inclusivity efforts can't stop with our people. As advocates of social change working on behalf of vulnerable children and communities, we want to expose our tenets to maximum daylight. In part, that means ensuring our grantees work to maximize their diversity.

It also means fostering conditions that increase diversity and inclusivity - and their social benefits - wherever we can. That's why we launched our five-year, $75 million America Healing initiative, addressing racial healing and equity. It's also why we look to expand this way of thinking and acting. When we were faced with an overwhelming response to our America Healing request for proposals, we created an online catalog to help other funders expand their equity efforts.

We cannot allow ourselves to lose sight that ensuring diverse organizations is only the start of a process. For communicators to succeed in their business efforts, ensuring we understand and thoughtfully represent our end users is an essential ingredient of credibility. You can't risk saying one thing and doing another.

Joanne Krell, VP of comms, W.K. Kellogg Foundation


Diversity is a necessity, not a luxury. Having a workforce as diverse as the audiences it targets is one of the most important and challenging aspects of working in PR and communications. Running a firm that deals with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied community may create the most challenging diversity issues of all.

Despite stereotypes, the reality is that my community - and one of the most important audiences for my clients - is brought together by an aspect of their lives that transcends race, age, ethnicity, class, geography, and every other category imaginable. As a small firm, it's vital our staff reflect as much of that diversity as possible. We have been fortunate, but like most cases of good luck, we made it ourselves. Whether it's a senior position or an intern, the intentionality of our outreach is the secret of our success. In addition to turning to the usual suspect sources, such as other PR firms or nonprofit communications shops, we rely on networks outside the box.

For us, experience is important, but so is commitment, values, passion, and the ability to learn. Our intern outreach is a good example. Providing a generous stipend broadens the pool beyond the students who can intern for school credits, and allows those kids working their way through school as much opportunity. Reaching out to a wide range of student organizations - gay and lesbian, African American, Asian, political - has also been a great way to widen the net.

My best advice? Be intentional. Be flexible. Be open-minded and willing to take risks. Mentor staff who give you the edge in reaching diverse audiences. The benefits more than outweigh the extra effort.

Cathy Renna, managing partner, Renna Communications


In the initial stages of building my firm in the early 1990s, I sought the advice of a highly respected minority educator about creating a diverse and dynamic workforce.

Her clear, succinct recommendation: "If you build it, they will come." In other words, if you recruit minorities to top posts in your firm, they will help attract other minorities and enhance your profile as a knowledge organization grounded in diversity.

While I heeded her sage advice, I would readily admit that our track record and that of corporate America has not been exemplary. According to a Harvard Business School case study, only 14 of the Fortune 500 companies have CEOs who are a minority, and only 10% of corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies are minorities.

To correct these inequities, we must focus on attracting, retaining, and promoting a diverse workforce, something my firm has recommitted to in recent years.

Actions clearly speak louder than words. At Widmeyer, we are proud of our African-American Journalism School Scholarship program at West Virginia University that has provided more than a dozen scholarships to minority students pursuing careers in communications. In addition, our Fellows program provides five to eight fellowships annually, and minorities fill several of these positions.  

The PR industry has a long way to go to truly represent and resemble what America looks like. By mid-century, today's minorities will be the new majority in the US. This seismic shift should be an urgent wake-up call for all of us who believe diversity equals progress, which in turn equals results.

Scott Widmeyer, chairman and CEO, Widmeyer Communications The Takeaway


  • Be intentional and forceful in recruiting and hiring minorities. Hiring and retaining a diverse workforce resonates louder and is more effectual than just saying diversity is important
  • Develop strong relationships with ethnic and diverse media
  • Encourage employees to join diverse professional groups
  • Partner and do business with organizations that place the same emphasis on diversity

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