Diversity and inclusion should be diversity and investment

Diversity should be considered an investment, says Lynn Appelbaum a PR professor at the City College of New York.

As a PR educator and passionate advocate for diversity, I’ve witnessed our industry’s gradual awakening to the importance of hiring smart practitioners who bring diverse perspectives, thought and creativity to the workplace mix.

Thanks to the proactive work of the PRSA Foundation, PRSA, The LAGRANT Foundation, the 4A’s (Association of American Advertising Agencies) Multicultural Advertising Intern Program program, and partnerships with groups such as HPRA, BPRS, and others, it would be rare to find industry leaders who are not aware of the importance of diversity and its value.

We are doing better, but there is much more to be done. This gradual industry awakening needs to become more evident. And that’s why I propose reframing the concept of diversity and inclusion (D&I) as diversity and investment.

Since 2015, professionals recruiting diverse employees have generally been called "diversity and inclusion officers." The significance of adding the word "inclusion," is that simply hiring more diverse professionals is not enough to bring diversity into the DNA of the workplace.

Implicit and explicit bias frequently work against diversity efforts after multicultural professionals enter a primarily white workplace. My 2015 study with Dr. Frank Walton provides plenty of examples of how biases negatively impact success.

I applaud the D&I professionals leading the charge to transform their workplaces to be genuinely more inclusive and moving the needle. Yet there are many who still see D&I efforts as "checking off boxes."

This is not enough. Real change requires tangible actions that drive results. We need to bring investment front and center in our strategic thinking.

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word "include" as "embrace, involve, imply," kumbaya words with not much substance. Inclusion is a worthy goal, but what does it actually mean in a competitive environment that is increasingly about ROI and deliverables?

Compare that to the definition of invest. "To commit in order to earn a financial return, to furnish with power and authority." This is significant because it implies that companies must take action to achieve results that benefit the business. Investment comes from a place of leadership, as important initiatives should.

Successful diversity and investment ROI requires a proactive commitment of tangible resources to enhance the recruitment, retention and promotion of diverse professionals. Better yet, each of these investments can be measured.

Here are three ways to invest and then measure diversity and investment success:

First, proactively recruit interns and professionals from colleges, professional circles and affinity groups outside your usual recruitment process.

This means seeking talent from diverse sources such as: PRSSA chapters and HBCU colleges with strong academic PR programs. MAIP, LAGRANT Foundation, Emma Bowen Foundation, T Howard Foundation. All these organizations work to identify diverse talent for internships.

If you only recruit one multicultural intern per session, your recruiting funnel is too narrow and has too much riding on one person’s success. You’ll want to draw from a wider pool of talent, as you would for any sound marketing plan. Tokenism is not good strategy.

Invest in building a partnership with diverse colleges with strong PR/digital communication programs for career fairs, to share professional expertise in the classroom, host agency tours, recruit interns, and even create scholarships. This not only benefits up and coming PR students, it shows you are serious about finding diverse talent and so are more likely to attract it.

How do you measure success? The number of diverse colleges/programs you reach out to, as well as touchpoints of student engagement, the number of students you interview, who intern, and who come on as full-time hires. Those are the metrics I use as lead faculty member overseeing internships and job placements.

Second, invest in the retention of multicultural practitioners. Consider the ways you invest in all employees, including your diverse employees, that help them feel welcome, supported in their daily teams, successful and heard.

All young professionals struggle with a steep learning curve to get comfortable with job deliverables and corporate culture. It can be even more challenging for young multicultural professionals in a primarily white workplace.

An effective way to meet such challenges is to invest in implicit bias training for all employees. But, ensuring that account teams are supportive and communicative is equally important.

Retention is strongly grounded not just in D&I efforts, but is also in the day to day experiences. Training, career development, employee resource groups, and mentorship are key.

How do you measure success? Enumerate the programs your company offers to all employees to promote a workplace that helps everyone do their best. Survey employees for feedback on workplace experiences.

Make sure there’s a platform for constructive feedback, especially for multicultural pros. Review employee compensation to ensure pay equity among all employees, especially multicultural professionals who may be subject to lower pay.

Third, invest in the promotion of diverse talent. While agencies have limited opportunities for employees to rise through the ranks, they will benefit by investing in succession planning and leadership development programs that cultivate diverse leadership.

This is important not just as demographics shift to the "emerging minority majority," it’s also important for diverse thought leadership and for cultivating role models.

How do you measure success? Consider the number and impact of programs you offer to identify and develop multicultural talent. Look at touchpoints for increased dialog and feedback. Review the job levels and promotion rates of your multicultural employees annually and compare that with the rest of your staff.

Invest in D&I across the business. Invest in a Board of Directors, not just in executives. Invest in building a diverse client and supplier base. Invest in aligning philanthropy and volunteer efforts around D&I.

The diversity and investment concept is not a panacea for the challenges in enhancing diversity. This is a complex issue that requires constant reflection, refinement and action. I hope it serves as a meaningful way for our industry to look honestly at our commitment to being diverse, and to assess whether our efforts have value beyond the label of diversity and inclusion.

Lynn Appelbaum is a professor in the advertising and public relations program at The City College of New York.

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