It’s no secret that 2020 has been a trying year. With civil unrest being brought to the forefront, more companies are taking diversity and inclusion seriously. Now, more than ever, embracing D&I can be a crucial step in rebounding after the economic downturn and strengthening the bottom line. But what does that look like in public relations?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 8% of PR management jobs are held by Blacks and 1.4% are held by Hispanics. There is unmistakably room for improvement. Embracing D&I comes with embracing diversity of thought, which can lead to creative strategies to re-engage clients and consumers of all backgrounds during the pandemic and beyond by using effective communication strategies.
As 2021 approaches, here are four predictions regarding how things may play out with D&I in the field of communications.
Representation matters. Embrace it!
More companies will realize the strength in diversity and will embrace it, including marketing agencies and corporations in need of in-house PR managers. We will see more diverse faces in communication roles in 2021, and not a moment too soon. Prior to the start of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, Barnes & Noble dealt with a PR crisis around its 2020 Black History Month campaign that some believed could have been avoided if there were more diverse voices in the decision making process. The book chain used novels with white characters and replaced their covers with people of color and essentially hijacked the month to offer a replacement for Black voices, leading to a PR disaster.
A key component of PR is crisis communications. While some crises are unavoidable, others can be mitigated in advance. By having diverse faces at the table, there is an opportunity for more voices to be heard. This can be great in communication and business. In fact, Harvard Business Review found that diverse teams can solve problems faster than cognitively similar people. Diversity and inclusion can also be excellent for reputation management, branding and increased exposure to different kinds of people.
More empathy in internal communications
We will see an increase in empathy with internal communication, especially given the events of 2020. Those that work in PR are aware of the value of knowing an audience and communicating with respective publics. With internal communication, that audience is employees. Research has indicated that tone of voice can be beneficial when rousing a team to action.
Furthermore, with everything going on regarding civil unrest, there are certain groups, whether it be different races, those with disabilities, or those in the LGBTQ community, that may be internalizing different struggles. Mental health has been a topic that has been gaining a lot of traction recently. In the new year, we can expect to see compassionate communication strategies utilized in the workplace to ensure that everyone is being heard and considered.
Get used to corporate social responsibility
In their book entitled “Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach,” researchers W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry Holladay stated that CSR is broadly defined as an organization incurring responsibilities to society beyond profit maximization or the voluntary actions that a company implements as it pursues its mission and fulfills its perceived obligations to stakeholders, including employees, communities, the environment and society as a whole.
In 2020, we witnessed brands such as McDonald’s, Netflix and Levi’s issuing statements of support regarding Black Lives Matter, and some have even taken steps in implementing key initiatives to support diversity. In 2021, brands will continue to make their voices heard on issues of equity and inclusion.
When it comes to PR, ethics has always been a fundamental aspect. After all, PR practitioners are often called on to apply their skills within the framework of ethical determinations. Carroll’s CSR pyramid, an outline indicating why organizations should meet their social responsibilities, has ethical responsibility listed as one of its four components in CSR. Definitely expect to see more PR professionals called on to develop and implement CSR strategies in 2021.
Variety is the spice of life
Communications can bridge the gap between different groups. In order to understand and celebrate each other's differences, PR practitioners and communications experts will be called on to brainstorm more programs aimed at minorities and marginalized groups.
Companies such as ESPN and Verizon are already doing this. Verizon supports nine resource groups including those aimed specifically at Native Americans, those with disabilities and the Latinx community. In order to continue to garner success from having such groups, organizations will lean on communication experts, specifically those with backgrounds in D&I, to help.
If there is one thing that 2020 taught us all, it is that diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords. These are topics that matter. And while there has been progress, there is certainly still work to do. As Helen Keller once said, alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.
Jaylen Christie is director of public relations at Moxe