Effective diversity relies on doing the right things, not just doing things right

I once read this in a fortune cookie: Before you wonder "Am I doing things right?" ask, "Am I doing the right things?" As we continue the discussion on the effectiveness of different diversity strategies, programs, and impact, these words become particularly germane to the conversation.

I once read this in a fortune cookie: Before you wonder “Am I doing things right?” ask, “Am I doing the right things?” These unexpected words of wisdom can apply to practically every facet of life. As we continue the discussion on the effectiveness of different diversity strategies, programs, and impact, these words become particularly germane to the conversation.

I recently had the opportunity to serve as a judge for the 2012 Diversity Distinction in PR Awards, presented by PRWeek and the Council of PR Firms. I was inspired by the many submissions for Diversity Champion and hope that the collective impact of these individual efforts will be increasingly felt across the industry in coming years. The quantity of entries and increase from the inaugural competition just one year ago were also encouraging. 

This could indicate a broader industry acknowledgment of the importance of attracting, developing, and retaining an ethnically diverse workforce. It also seems to speak to a desire among agencies and clients to have a strong employer of choice brand in the diversity arena. This is progress and it is duly noted.

However, the quality of some of the entries is still not quite where it should be. While many of the submissions represented notable strides towards creating sustainable change, numerous others lacked the comprehensive approach and demonstrated commitment that will be required to drive results in both the short and long term. This raises the key issue of intent, which I generally deem to be positive, versus impact. Unfortunately, good intentions are not enough and do little to elevate the standards of diversity in the PR industry.

So what are some of the initial “right things” agencies and other organizations can do as they embark upon and continue their diversity journeys?

In addition to providing vital support, senior leaders must be willing to have candid – and sometimes uncomfortable – conversations about where their organizations are on the diversity continuum. This extends beyond anecdotal acknowledgement of having a diversity challenge to an in-depth analysis of workforce representation against market availability and desired goals and outcomes. These discussions should also be informed by data obtained through confidential employee surveys and focus groups. As PR practitioners, we advocate research, engagement, and conversation between clients and key stakeholders to provide necessary insights for program development. These tools are just as valuable in creating an effective diversity strategy. 

Next, understand that the concept of “you get what you give” also applies to diversity. While adequate resources and investment of talent and budget are required for any program to realize its potential, diversity programs are often the last resourced and the first cut. Continuous resource commitment to and accountability for achieving diversity goals must be maintained for meaningful impact. Under-resourced efforts are often synonymous with underwhelming results. 

Lastly, develop diversity strategies with a similar approach as a communications strategy. Few agencies would advise clients to execute a one-off sponsorship or event and expect accolades for program strategy or audience engagement. Just as an effective PR strategy is a multi-pronged, comprehensive, and ongoing effort, an impactful diversity strategy should be as well. This includes an integrated strategy spanning recruitment, employee engagement, internal and external communications, training and development, talent management, succession planning, and other functions as relevant based on organizational structure. One-off and disjointed efforts are not expected to successfully build brands, engage desired stakeholders, or drive desired behavior or culture change, nor should they be expected to result in a successful diversity program.

The next time your organization is assessing its diversity efforts, before asking if things are being done right, consider first whether the right things are being done. 

It's time for more industry players to raise the standard. Who's game?

Latraviette Smith has spent almost 15 years in communications in agency corporate, consumer, and multicultural PR, as well as senior marketing roles. Her column will focus on the PR industry's ongoing efforts to advance diversity among its ranks at all levels. Connect with her via LinkedIn or at latraviette@gmail.com.

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