It’s time the industry stopped telling us we’re ‘not the right fit’

A big part of the racism issue in the PR industry is the fixation on ‘fit’.

What exactly are you asking us to 'fit' into, asks Bemi Idowu
What exactly are you asking us to 'fit' into, asks Bemi Idowu

Don’t get me wrong, it is essential for team members to fit in with one another. However, the bigger question is about what they are meant to fit into.

People naturally want to work with people like themselves and in an industry that is 92 per cent white, that often means hiring and retaining ‘more of the same’. However, this is an urge that we need to fight if we are to address the diversity crisis in our industry.

We need to work hard to ensure that convenience is not the enemy of progress.

We need to ensure that offices are willing and ready to enable as many people as possible, as long as they have the talent and ambition, to bring their full selves to work.

We must also be ready to accommodate difference for the greater good of our industry, and resist the temptation to exclude people simply because they don’t look or sound like the majority.

I have lost count of the number of times that I was told that I did not get a role I interviewed for because I wasn’t the right fit, without any further explanation.

I have also seen an old line manager (a black man) removed from an account he was running, not because he, his team or the account was underperforming, but because the client said he wasn’t the right fit.

He was the only black person on the account and was replaced by a white colleague.

Those of us who have been the only black/non-white face in the team or in the building also know the challenge of being the odd one out.

What makes it worse is that when we highlight these incidents to the people who have the power to make the change, they can be so quick to feign ignorance or tell us that we "shouldn't look at it that way".

Saying someone is not the right fit may seem innocent but, at its heart, it can be a sinister statement that tells people that they don’t belong.

And far too often black people are on the receiving end of this statement. The talent and the ambition is often just not enough.

To address this systemic issue and to have an industry where talent and ambition are the most influential factors that determine career prospects, we must challenge the ‘more of the same’ culture that stops us from having a workforce that is truly representative of the world outside our offices – and ‘diversity of thought’ will not be enough.

Bemi Idowu is an account director at Wimbart

PRWeek UK is committed to having a more diverse selection of commentators in our articles, and is compiling a list of BME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) PR professionals who are willing to be quoted. To be added to the list, please email and include your specialist areas of expertise, and/or preferred subjects for commentary.  

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