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Three steps the PR industry needs to take to close the diversity gap, by Bright Star’s Bieneosa Ebite

28th January 2013

As part of my predictions for PR trends in 2013, I said that the year ahead presents an opportunity for the PR industry to build on its achievements in relation to diversity. However, in order to build on these achievements, we need to leverage the power of leadership and collaboration, as well as focus on measuring the outcome of diversity initiatives.

There is no denying that the industry has moved forwards when it comes to taking the issue of diversity more seriously, particularly when we look back to 2005 when the CIPR launched a policy to boost diversity. This initiative was condemned as a tick-box exercise, as it failed to translate policy into action. The policy document merely papered over the cracks of an issue that needed to be addressed with authenticity, purpose and a long-term strategy. Although the CIPR has since set up its Diversity Working Group, its previous initiative is a stark reminder that in order for any diversity initiative to make a difference, it must be embedded into the DNA of an organisation from the outset, with authentic buy-in from its leaders.

Coming back to the present day, the PR industry has improved, particularly over the last two years. Agencies like Edelman have clearly understood both the business case and moral imperative for diversity, and have embedded this into their businesses. The Taylor Bennett Foundation’s Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) Internship Programme has grown significantly since its inception in 2008 and, most recently, we have seen the launch of the PR Apprenticeship Programme. Ignite, the organisation which I cofounded, promoted the benefits of cultural diversity in PR for a period of almost five years, prior to its closure earlier this month. However, after reviewing the results of the 2011 Census, it is abundantly clear that our industry still has a long way to go in order to reflect the audiences that we seek to engage, both at home and abroad.

Think global, act local

I am under no illusion that the make up of our industry will change significantly overnight, but we can improve the pace of change by thinking, working and acting smarter. In his prediction for PR trends in 2013, Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA, highlights that PR needs to look global due to the increasing need for multi-market communication. In order for PR to look global, it must have a global mindset. This means that leaders within agencies must have the desire to look beyond their own frame of reference by cultivating their knowledge about diverse cultures and markets.

As part of this mindset, leaders would understand the long-term success of their business lies in recruiting and leveraging a diverse workforce. It is worth noting that I use the term “diverse” in a holistic manner, which incorporates cultural Intelligence. In his book, Leading with Cultural Intelligence, David Livermore describes cultural intelligence as “the ability to be effective across various cultural contexts – including national, ethnic, organisational, generational, ideological, and much more.” Our industry needs to have a global mindset to stay relevant, which starts by acting locally to close the diversity gap at home.

Three steps to help close the diversity gap

1. Collaboration

The PRCA and the CIPR are undertaking initiatives to enhance diversity in PR. This is good news in terms of sending out a message to the industry that this issue of diversity is being taken seriously. However, given that diversity is a pan-industry issue, there is a missed opportunity for collaboration. The aim of the CIPR’s Diversity Working Group and the report published by the PRCA’s Access Commission share similar ground. The year ahead presents an ideal opportunity to pool resources for the greater good of the industry. Ideally, this would lead to a joint strategy, with each membership organisation working in tandem, but within the remit of their organisational structures, with a shared vision and purpose. This approach would have a greater impact in helping to close the diversity gap.

2. Leadership

I’ve said that leaders within agencies need to have a global mindset. In the first instance, leaders need to have the desire to look outside their own frame of reference and engage with people from different backgrounds and cultures, and those who possess different life experiences from their own. One of the contributory factors to the PR industry’s diversity gap is homosocial reproduction: leaders, and those responsible for recruitment, selecting candidates that most closely reflect themselves. By cultivating a global mindset, leaders will recognise the need to recruit a diverse workforce. PR agencies should look at investing in training for leaders and management teams to help cultivate this global mindset.

3. Measuring success

Any organisation that is undertaking a diversity initiative should be doing so with a view to making a tangible difference. However, this tangible difference can only be articulated through measurement. Monitoring is an essential part of good diversity management and provides information on whether diversity strategies are producing changes in quality as well as quantity. On a national level, we have the PRCA/ PR Week Census, which provides a useful demographic snapshot of the industry. Something else that would be beneficial to see in 2013 is the demographic breakdown of PR Apprentices.

Case studies provide another avenue to foster a culture of measurement. There is plenty of scope for agencies to showcase their successful diversity initiatives with PR trade press and our industry bodies.

In conclusion, there is nothing wrong with doing a small number of things when it comes to diversity in PR in 2013. The key lies in executing these things well. With a focus on the three steps outlined above, we can build on our achievements in 2012 and take more steps forward to enhance diversity in PR.

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