Embrace diversity or fail

Diversity – why care? Hasn’t diversity been done to death in the media? Hasn’t the PR industry ‘done that’ and moved on to the next hot topic?

Well the answer is no. In fact, diversity only continues to become more important and relevant as it increasingly drives societal change, becomes a factor in how we communicate, questions our concepts of community and challenges our professional sphere and practices. No longer ‘just’ an HR issue or an inconvenient stat in the annual report, diversity is finally on the agenda and it’s here to stay.

As the world changes socially, economically, politically, demographically and technologically, new pressures and increased globalisation will mean that diversity is becoming a business imperative. Certainly those of us in the communications sector will need to address its many implications for our business. These changes will result in the need to target more diverse audiences, create trust with more varied and ‘new’ stakeholders, reach more diverse markets and increasingly work with diverse clients facing global business challenges – themselves all being influenced by diverse cultural and creative trends. All of which the PR industry will need to understand and deliver to maintain commercial advantage.

And of course, the media landscape has changed significantly too; becoming more diverse itself thereby supporting and at the same time, enabling change. From fragmented audiences, to multiple channels, to numerous ways to engage via technology, alongside smart targeting of diverse interests and on and off-line alignment. These diverse audiences are themselves part of a huge shift, from ‘old school’ demographics to interest driven communities – not defined or held back by geographies, age, money or the physical world – they represent new global audiences and influencers.

At the same time, many groups are making a strong and increasingly vocal call for fairness and equality. For example, women in business and the challenges they face has never been more in the spotlight, though with women still having to fight for equal pay it’s clear we have a long way to go. CIPR’s gender pay gap research recently confirmed what many have known for some time. The 2015 research published in February, as part of State of the Profession, highlighted that a clear pay inequality gap of £8,483 exists in favour of men, a figure that cannot be explained by any other factor such as length of service, seniority, parenthood, or a higher prevalence of part-time work amongst women.

And while women are at the vanguard of current discussions around corporate equality, diversity and fairness, global trends mean that the workplace is also undergoing an evolution from the monoculture of yesteryear to a new diverse reality. The future workplace will reflect the global movement of people, new societal trends, corporate market expansion, technological advances and new talent pools resulting in a truly new workforce. From multigenerational teams of gen-Xers, baby boomers and millennials; to more women in the workplace (1 billion alone will enter the workforce from emerging markets by 2020); to more home working and part-time roles enabled by flexible working; to seamless multi-market teams powered by new technology. Talent is changing. The needs of talent are changing.

And despite this new workforce, as we in PR repeat our message about the fight for new talent and how lack of talent is our biggest business concern, we continue to hire ‘people like us’. Our universities? Tick. Our favoured degrees? Tick. Our ‘type’? Tick. Our accent? Tick? One of us? Tick.

We don’t need ‘people like us’. We need smart, creative and committed talent. We need folks who get social, fragmented media and new communities. We need to challenge the old ways of doing things. We need…diversity! Diversity to keep us creative and insightful via new input and ideas from a wide group of fresh minds and cultures. The last State of the Profession survery refreshingly found two-thirds of PR Professionals agreed diverse teams produced better campaigns but the CIPR diversity monitoring stats are still a grim read. BAME professionals constitute just 9% of the public relations workforce. We are not challenging ourselves, or our industry. We must embrace diversity, support positive change and reap the benefits.

Of course, you could just embrace diversity as it’s the right thing to do or because you want to be seen to do the right thing. Or you could wait until you fall foul of the legislation. The Government has already announced plans to compel large organisations to publish information on employee salaries. The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for any organisation to pay men and women unequally. Legislation will eventually force our industry to improve its attitude to all diversity issues, but in the meantime are you willing to risk negative feedback from your peers, clients or employees? Either way, it’s your corporate reputation.

Embrace diversity or fail‘ is an excerpt from ‘From Diversity to Inclusion: The Progression of Equality in Public Relations and Challenges for the Future‘, a new research report published on Thursday 3 December by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ Diversity Working Group (CIPR DWG). The report calls on businesses in public relations to take greater ownership of the diversity agenda, embed a more mature approach to deliver genuine inclusive leadership, and ensure inclusive communications is factored in to the delivery of all public relations campaigns. Find out more.


Avril Lee, Chair of the CIPR Diversity & Inclusion Forum and Deputy Global Healthcare Practice Chair, Burson-Marsteller

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