Needle moves on diversity - but only slowly

An evening celebrating progress and best practice on diversity also underlined the fact that there is still a long way to go before genuine inclusion in the PR industry is achieved.

HeForShe leader Elizabeth Nyamayaro inspired everyone at the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards.
HeForShe leader Elizabeth Nyamayaro inspired everyone at the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards.

PRWeek and the PR Council’s Diversity Distinction in PR Awards were handed out last night during a gala celebration at Tribeca Rooftop in New York City.

Always an inspiring event, the awards honor the work, teams and individuals working to move the needle on diversity. This year’s awards deliberately extended the definition of inclusion to encompass the LGBTQ+ community and disabled people.

In her opening remarks, PR Council president Kim Sample noted that the recent elevation of Gail Heimann to the CEO position at Weber Shandwick meant six of the top 11 agencies in her organization are now helmed by women, but that that progress is definitely not mirrored by ethnic diversity in the top echelons of the industry.

The jury members evaluating this year’s diversity awards entries considered them some of the best yet in the nine years PRWeek has been running the program in partnership with the PR Council. In the current febrile social climate, where intolerance is increasing across the board, it is more important than ever to promote and champion inclusivity.

Porter Novelli followed up its victory last year in the Best PR Firm Diversity Initiative for agencies with revenues in excess of $100 million. This year’s initiative was We Stand for Love, a multifaceted effort last August to combat the hate-filled rhetoric associated with the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville, Virginia racist marches.

The activation underscored the fact that every person deserves to feel welcome and be respected, through encouraging the telling of personal stories from the experiences of staffers around the globe that stimulated massive engagement and acted as a game-changer in terms of agency culture – and it is ongoing.

The submissions in the agency category for firms with revenues under $100 million were less encouraging, and the judges will hope to see some better entries next year.

Cisco took home the award for Best In-House Diversity Initiative for its Diverse Talent Accelerators global program, building a suite of solutions specifically designed to find, attract and accelerate diverse top talent.

It was pleasing to see Weber Shandwick’s Judith Harrison honored as PR Agency Diversity Champion, as she has been an inspiration and mentor to so many people inside and outside of the Interpublic Group firm. Trisch Smith from Edelman achieved a very worthy honorable mention in this category, another superb mentor for young PR professionals at her firm and beyond.

Carmichael Lynch Relate’s Aaron Komo was an inspiring winner of the Outstanding Young Professional category. Rhonda Mims won In-House Diversity Champion honors for initiatives including instigating WellCare Health Plans’ Diversity Council and embedding D&I across the C-suite of the company, which is now in the midst of a $17.3 billion merger with Centene.

However, amidst the celebrations, there is still a note of caution in getting too carried away about progress on diversity in the PR industry.

As Judith Harrison pointed out while accepting her award, in 1995 83% of the U.S. population was classified as white according to the Census Bureau. That figure has now dropped significantly, to 60.4%. But, at the end of 2017, 83% of the PR industry was still classed as white, illustrating how far we still have to go to achieve genuine diversity in the industry.

PR must reflect the general population if it is to properly represent and communicate corporate and brand messages and engage audiences. Let’s hope it’s not another 25 years before those numbers become reflective of the general population.

But, overall, the vibe of the evening was one of inspiration. I was lucky enough to meet Sena Pottackal, a D&I intern at NBC Universal who is blind but who isn’t letting that stop her from doing good through PR. She also wowed the crowd at the PR Council’s Critical Issues Forum this morning at Carnegie Hall.

And, finally, along with the rest of the crowd at the awards dinner, I was captivated by Elizabeth Nyamayaro, global head of the HeForShe global solidarity movement for gender equality and a senior adviser to UN under-secretary-general Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Her story of being a starving 8-year-old child in Malawi who was aided by UN representatives and subsequently inspired to join the organization and do good herself put everything in perspective and underlined our obsession with what are very much first world problems.

It was a reminder of how privileged we are to enjoy relative comfort and freedom in the daily course of our lives.

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