The methods agencies are using to hold themselves accountable on DEI

Internal surveys are only the beginning. If firms want to advise clients on improving staff diversity, they must lead themselves.

(Photo credit: Getty Images).
(Photo credit: Getty Images).

The social and political upheaval that Americans experienced throughout the last year-plus yielded a moment of reckoning for many. Beyond driving individuals to take stock of their own lives and behaviors, the lessons drove many corporations to revisit their practices and initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion. 

This is true for PR agencies and their clients, who are striving to combat a historical lack of representation internally. While many initiatives are new enough that the results remain to be seen, many agencies are codifying their practices, helping hold themselves, and their clients, to account.

We spoke to several agencies to understand what their internal diversity, equity and inclusion practices look like and what they’re doing to measure their success.

This March, Chanta’ Stewart was named Evoke Kyne’s VP and head of DEI. She is building on the work that the agency’s global task force began in 2018, focusing on interviewing and hiring protocols and processes and tracking retention, promotions and tenure across demographics. 

Like many of its peers, Evoke Kyne is taking steps to revamp interview questions and modify recruitment by measures like blinding resumes and partnering with recruitment organizations that are focused on reaching diverse communities.

But the agency also knows that it needs to understand how employees already within the organization think it is doing and how they feel working there. This year, the firm launched a DEI survey that will supplement the existing annual employee survey, which asks questions about inclusivity, such as belonging and feeling respected, whether that inclusivity is permeating throughout the organization and overall job satisfaction. 

The survey also solicits feedback on the training and workshops held on topics like unconscious bias to understand whether they’re useful, what employees would like to see more of and what barriers may exist to them participating.

The results of this year’s survey will serve as a baseline so the agency can benchmark year-on-year. This qualitative data will be coupled with quantitative data, measuring diversity and representation across the workforce at different levels, particularly in senior roles.

“We’re looking at the number of new hires that are from non-white, underrepresented groups, retention rates year-over-year and breaking this down to the team and supervisor level to identify gaps and help tailor our efforts,” Stewart explains.

Evoke Kyne has also infused its DEI metrics into performance reviews and the agency’s competency matrix. By incorporating these expectations, the onus is on every team member to strive toward making that cultural shift.

Ketchum, meanwhile, has put emphasis on more inclusive hiring for its Summer Fellows Program. People Operations Manager Morgan Hidalgo notes that the agency has created a gamified application process as part of this effort, called LaunchPad.

Previously, the agency relied on traditional metrics like resume and past PR or industry-relevant experience to assess candidates. LaunchPad invites all interested candidates to participate in the LaunchPad game, which they do anonymously. 

“They create an anonymous profile, answer two fictitious challenge questions and then vote, comment and like other gamers’ responses,” Hidalgo explains. “Those that rise to the top of LaunchPad’s leaderboard based on their creativity, strategic capabilities and interaction within the game are then screened by our HR team to ensure they’d be a cultural addition to Ketchum.” They are then invited for an interview with the hiring team.

Ketchum has coupled this initiative with a relationship-building effort with more than 1,000 universities and HBCUs across the country, including those that don’t have PR programs or degrees. The combination helps them reach a more diverse set of candidates, both in terms of background and education.

Code+ify, an offering from Weber Shandwick and the agency’s change management consultancy United Minds, helps clients define and improve their own D&I strategy and communications. Clients have approached the firm in the last year seeking to understand how they compare to their peers and how to start.

To answer these questions, United Minds developed a proprietary benchmark to compare client employee research against it and understand where clients stand. The research benchmarks employee perceptions of DEI and tracks it across inherent diversity, acquired diversity, job type, level and industry.

Tai Wingfield, EVP and DEI lead at United Minds explains that the organization surveyed more than 1,500 full-time employees. 

“There were a number of alarming key points. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed have doubts whether their employer is investing sufficiently in DEI, and nearly half have experienced or witnessed unfair treatment.”

The benchmark is one part of their offering, which Wingfield explains is a “data-driven approach to providing a roadmap for DEI analysis and strategy. It gives data to inform operation models and structure, how to properly structure employee resource groups and to inform storytelling. The key is that comms has to be embedded as a core piece to effectively advance DEI.”

How are firms doing that? Beyond the benchmark tool, United Minds partners with Weber’s research arm, KRC, to assess the internal culture of a client’s organization and identify gaps. This might include a survey to understand the employee experience. After the firm has gathered this quantitative data, it will then conduct focus groups with whoever is identified as the more at-risk employees and begin to unpack what they’re seeing in the data. 

“We also conduct material review audits of existing programs, policies and HR benefits to see where bias may exist within the system,” Wingfield says. “We take all of that analysis to inform a DEI strategy and areas where the client may need to recalibrate.” The firm also uses this information to define a client’s DEI comms narrative across channels, ensuring that it is aligned with the lived reality of the organization’s employees. 

United Minds also partners with the agency’s global intelligence team to gather even more data, such as assessing reviews on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed to understand how the organization is talking about itself and whether that aligns with its employees’, prospective employees’ or customers’ expectations. This kind of research yields insights such as, many healthcare organizations tend to emphasize gender diversity, when in fact employees feel that comms for DEI benefits, tools and resources is what they’d like to hear more of from their employers.

“To communicate effectively, reach key audiences and drive your business forward, you have to approach it from the inside out,” Wingfield says. “This is not multicultural marketing. It’s about ensuring you have diverse representation in your employee base and that you have a culture that fosters inclusion so they feel comfortable speaking up, are heard and their opinions are valued.”

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