Eight ways to improve BAME representation in PR, from NHS comms professionals

My name is Shakeel, but many people know me as Shak.

I have seen first-hand how amazing talent falls by the wayside, writes Shak Rafiq
I have seen first-hand how amazing talent falls by the wayside, writes Shak Rafiq

I moved away from calling myself Shakeel was early on in my career, in the days before I was in the public sector, but I’ve stuck with it now.

I chose to do this for a simple reason which now, on reflection, shows how BAME people sometimes have to lose a part of themselves to integrate.

I was tired of having to pronounce my name. It’s pretty straightforward; two syllables - ‘shak’, ‘eel’.

My name originates from a cross of Urdu and Arabic and means handsome (you can stop laughing now…), whereas Shak in Urdu means… suspicion.

So next time you ask ‘What’s in a name?’ it could be the difference between something beautiful and something, well, not so great.

As a BAME comms professional I have seen first-hand how amazing talent falls by the wayside; people seen as loud or challenging, when actually they have struggled all their lives to be heard; ideas developed by BAME people hijacked and repackaged by others, because they know how to present the information in a room full of white, middle-class people.

Why does it seem to take so long to address BAME issues?

Activities marking Pride, laws for gender pay-gap reporting and positive promotion of women have made a difference to those resistance movements.

Where is the action to address the inequity for BAME achievement?

The call for diversity in communications is nothing new – it’s just more exposed now thanks to Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter isn’t about politics, it is about education.

If you haven’t learned your BAME history from first-hand sources or textbooks authored by BAME people, then it might be time to diversify your teams, networks and relationships, as well as your reading list.

That diversity in thinking will also help you deliver better campaigns that improve the bottom line, or create the kind of behaviour change your audiences want.

So here are my thoughts on how you can help the PR industry become more representative:

1. Don’t expect me or my fellow BAME colleagues to speak on behalf of all diverse communities – get out there and build those meaningful relationships.

2. Diversify our profession from the bottom up. Set up an apprenticeship scheme, encourage applications from BAME people – especially those who like me don’t have access to the same networks and contacts that you may have.

3. Review your recruitment policies and processes. Are they holding people back through conscious or unconscious bias? Is your leadership team reflective of our communities and our target audiences? How often have you overlooked BAME colleagues for promotion, and why?

4. Develop consumer panels that are truly diverse and reflect the demographics of our country.

5. The right leaning tabloids have a lot to answer for. As a BAME Liverpool supporter I’d love nothing more than a day when you refuse to advertise in certain publications (you can guess which ones).

6. No one likes tokenism – it’s obvious and crude. A social media post saying #BlackLivesMatter isn’t enough to demonstrate your commitment to inclusion. Be genuine and reach out to people from BAME communities who are looking for a step onto the ladder – you won’t regret it.

7. Don’t ever ask me where I’m really from – this will be my response.

8. Above all be curious, be kind and get to know each other. It really is that simple.

Shak Rafiq is comms manager for NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG)

This piece was written in collaboration with Alison Brown, Julie Clayton, Ranjeet Kaile and Richard Mountford, who lead the equality and inclusion workstream for the NHS Engagement and Communications Development Steering Group.

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 john.harrington@haymarket.com and include your specialist areas of expertise, and/or preferred subjects for commentary. 

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