Gloves Off: Should firms publish their diversity data?

Two industry leaders take sides on the question of whether agencies should make their gender and ethnic diversity data public.

L-R: Aedhmar Hynes and Sharon Fenster
L-R: Aedhmar Hynes and Sharon Fenster


Sharon Fenster,
president, PRSA New York, over 20 years of experience in brand and marketing strategy

PR is driven by results. Our clients demand measurement as a way of monitoring our performance. Now, we need to extend the pressure of accountability and transparency into our goals for diversity and inclusion.

The release and evaluation of diversity data is an insurance policy that generates results. It lets us see where we are and collaborate to determine where we want to go.

Avoiding this won’t be an option much longer. Global corporations such as HP, Verizon, and General Mills demand the sharing of diversity data from their advertising and PR agencies. And now the advertising world, which owns most of the global PR firms, has begun to share its diversity data. This trend will only accelerate in 2018.

In 2017, all you had to do was take a quick inventory of a meeting room at any national PR conference to know our attempts at diversity and inclusion still remained dismal. The heart of the problem lies in the reaches of the C-suite, which remains predominantly male and white.

This is where folks start to get uncomfortable, but it’s also where progress needs to happen most. Moving our focus on the C-suite will improve many of the problems we continue to experience among our rank. For instance, many agencies have problems retaining diverse staffs due to a lack of opportunity for advancement and equality of work, wage, and policy.

In 2018, PRSA New York plans to spearhead an initiative that will call on organizations to be bold by submitting their diversity data — whether anonymously or publicly.

The hope is that this data will become a launching point for firms to compare their progress.

This would be part of a certification process that rewards forward-thinking agencies that meet benchmarks for female leadership and more. Certification would promote the advancement of best practices and solutions.

Fear and familiarity are no longer options for the leaders in our industry. It’s time to step up and submit your numbers.


Aedhmar Hynes,
CEO, Text100, longtime agency leader, 2018 Page Society chair

The comms industry, like every industry, needs to represent the diversity of the world we live in. Ensuring meaningful career opportunities are available to people from every background is not only the right thing to do, it’s also key to being effective in how we communicate with our clients’ stakeholders.

However, true diversity is about far more than simply publishing diversity data.

It’s about a diversity of thinking, training, and talent that takes full advantage of the unique combination of background and experience each of us brings to the workplace.

I worry some agencies may develop diversity initiatives based on numbers, or publish data and then feel the job is done. The real solution is creating a culture where diverse ideas can flourish. If we run a culture- and values-based business that is collaborative, it will establish an environment where everyone can succeed.

We should place greater emphasis on cultural change and adopt ways of doing things that are inherently open and welcoming to diversity. Most agencies, along with every major industry association including the PR Council, the PRSA, and the Arthur W. Page Society, have key initiatives around diversity and inclusion.

There is increasing industry-wide collaboration to drive awareness of best practices to create and promote diversity.

How do we tackle this in our own workplaces? It starts by collaborating with agency staff to form values based on input from all employees, instead of dictating them from the top. Then we must live those values through training and education, the work environment we foster, the things we reward and recognize, and who and how we promote.

The data we should measure is how well our culture creates an inclusive environment. We shouldn’t be satisfied when HR shows progress through demographics. We should ask employees whether they feel their ideas are valued and whether they feel empowered. That’s true progress toward diversity.

PRWeek’s view: Agencies should release their workplace diversity data, but they can’t stop there. They should demonstrate they are welcoming all races, genders, and sexual orientations.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in