Over the last eighteen months I’ve been working in the area of diversity and inclusion for Big Voice Communications, which is a specialist diversity and inclusion communications consultancy.
I’ve learnt a lot about diversity and inclusion, accessibility, and inclusive marketing and communications. I’ve loved my experience and the work is extremely rewarding.
And I’ve been asking myself: what would I like to see change in the next twelve months for PR and communications to become more diverse and inclusive?
The short answer is lots. But here’s a wish list of my five top picks, backed up with some thoughts from relevant experts in each area, plus actions you can take to ensure your organisation better represents the people you serve.
#1 If your PR or communications team is homogeneous, change it now
No more all-male teams, all-female teams, all-white teams, or all non-disabled teams. This needs to change. Now. There’s still too many of them in PR and communications.
Your organisation’s PR and communications team needs to represent the communities you serve, which is why you can’t ignore under-represented groups anymore. This applies agency side and in-house.
The CIPR State of the Profession 2017 survey showed an eight per cent rise in the number of practitioners with recruiting responsibilities who believe that ethnically diverse teams produce better campaigns. But there is still a low level of representation of people from ethnic minorities in the industry.
The CIPR survey also shows that seven per cent of practitioners admit to having a disability, whilst three per cent chose not to say whether they did or not. When you consider that around 15 to 20 per cent of the UK population has a disability, PR isn’t particularly representative of disabled people at the moment.
But that’s not just a communications problem, with the UK’s disability employment gap (the difference between the employment rate of non-disabled and disabled people) standing at over 30 per cent.
That means that there are more than 30 per cent more unemployed disabled people than unemployed non-disabled people, which equates to around two million people.
So when you make your next hire make sure you look seriously at candidates from a group or groups of people you know you should do a better job of representing.
Sarah Stimson, Chief Executive of Taylor Bennett Foundation, said: “The PR industry continues to be under representative of a number of groups, including people from BAME backgrounds.
“There is appetite to address this and a number of initiatives to tackle the problem. But the real change will come about when PR employers embrace diversity and inclusion as an integral part of their organisation’s culture.
“Diversity is not just a buzzword, it is an imperative if the industry is to be representative of the audiences it is trying to reach and accessible to all.”
Also, read the new PRCA Diversity and Inclusion Guidelines, which have been supported by the CIPR. The guidelines are a great resource with lots of practical actions to make your team and your organisation more diverse and inclusive.
#2 Address the gender pay gap and achieve equal pay in your organisation and your supply chain (e.g. freelancers)
The spotlight has been firmly focussed on the gender pay gap for the last couple of years. This applies to PR and communications as much as other industries like sports, media and entertainment.
The CIPR State of the Profession 2017 survey showed that the gender pay gap in PR is £5,784. This figure is under £20 lower than the 2016 survey’s figure, which suggests that efforts to close the gap have had virtually no impact so far.
Looking outside of PR and communications we now see big brands starting to take timely action to address this gender pay discrimination in the UK. Not least because they have to: all organisations with 250 or more workers must publish their gender pay gap figures before April.
The BBC recently reported that more than 500 firms have revealed their gender pay gap so far, and I believe that publishing these figures will force those with the biggest gaps to address the issue, reduce their pay gap and achieve equal pay. If not, they better be ready for the inevitable social and mass media storm that will be heading their way.
But there’s a wonderful wind of change coming from Iceland at the moment, where companies with 25 or more employees must now prove they don’t pay women less than men for the same work.
Even so, I think there are still too many organisations in the UK burying their head in the sand right now. But the problem won’t go away, it will just become an even bigger issue. Every organisation must work hard to promote more women into senior roles, which will in turn help reduce the gender pay gap.
And every organisation must also ensure that its staff, including PR and communications professionals, are paid equally for doing the same or similar jobs, regardless of what gender they are. This includes looking at your supply chain too, particularly freelancers.
CIPR President Sarah Hall said: “The gender pay gap is a serious business issue. For close to four years now, this and gender equality generally has been a key policy area for the CIPR.
“A female-dominated industry like public relations should be an exemplar to the rest of the UK. The challenge is for us to make it a reality. As such, it is imperative we break down the barriers that prevent women from progressing in the workplace.
“This includes providing transparency over pay structures; using a human resources specialist to aid with recruitment and retention; conducting gender and diversity audits and instigating policies where change is needed.
“It also means normalising shared parental leave, as well as agile working to make the workplace a much fairer place to be.”
Publish your organisation’s gender pay gap list. If it’s not practical this year, set a date for next year. And stick to it! Or if you want to ease your way into it, publish an internal list this year, then an external one in 2019.
#3 Promote more women into the most senior roles
2016 was the year when a woman nearly became the President of the US for the first time, and thus the most powerful person in the world. The way in which the election was won is still subject to a pretty big legal investigation. But it shows the world is changing.
It’s been a long standing criticism of the PR industry that far too few women make into the very top positions. And considering that the majority of practitioners are women it’s difficult to comprehend why women are less likely to get the most senior roles. It’s 2018!
Clearly organisations need to work out what the barriers for women are and take sustained action to remove those barriers.
For example, organisations need to understand and respect the fact that because many senior female practitioners are parents they may need some flexibility to combine work with being a Mum. It’s not rocket science (flexible working, that is).
Avril Lee, Chair of the CIPR Diversity & Inclusion Forum, said: “We need to address the issue, unless we do PR will continue to see the senior female talent drain as women either leave the industry, change jobs or stay in more junior roles.
“The current situation means we’re not accessing a wealth of great female talent or offering these individuals the career opportunities they deserve. To achieve this there are three fundamental changes that I believe would make the biggest difference.
“The first is to encourage women to step up to senior leadership through mentorship, direct approaches to ‘rising stars’ and supportive corporate culture.
“Next, we need to challenge and change our ‘norms of leadership’, which are defined by male behaviours and put women at a disadvantage when being considered for senior roles.
“And most importantly, current leaders need to proactively and publically address leadership inequality and commit to ensuring fairness and balance on their boards and in other senior teams.”
Identity female practitioners with senior leadership potential. Work with individuals to support them in reaching their full potential including mentoring (internal and external mentors) and formal career development.
HR and senior leadership should proactively address current imbalances in senior teams through a broad range of activities. These should address appropriate communication around leadership, corporate culture, promotion practices, salary reviews and succession planning.
#4 Make your organisation’s/clients’ digital communications accessible and inclusive
It’s too easy for PR and communications practitioners to forget that the 13 million-plus people in the UK who have a disability want and need to be able to access digital communications. Whether that’s reading a blog, or applying for a job online.
But a lot of the time they simply can’t, due to barriers such as inaccessible websites.
This digital exclusion couldn’t be further away from what the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, believes the Web can do to democratise media by making information available online for everyone.
“The Web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, location, or ability. When the Web meets this goal, it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.
“Thus the impact of disability is radically changed on the Web because the Web removes barriers to communication and interaction that many people face in the physical world.
“However, when web sites, applications, technologies, or tools are badly designed, they can create barriers that exclude people from using the Web.” – Sir Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web.
When you and your team create digital communications for your organisation or your clients do you ensure they are accessible and inclusive to the widest possible audience? You should.
There’s an overwhelming business case for digital inclusion. The spending power of disabled people and their families in the UK is over £200 billion per year, according to an estimate by the Government’s Depart for Work & Pensions. But disabled people form a massive market that is largely ignored.
Then there’s the legal case. It’s a requirement of The equality Act 2010 for every organisation to make reasonable adjustments so that everyone can access information and services, regardless of a disability.
No more is this is essential than when it comes to recruitment. As mentioned earlier in this blog, disabled people are woefully under-represented in the UK workforce, this includes in PR and Communications.
Robin Christopherson is Head of Digital Inclusion at national digital accessibility charity AbilityNet, which was asked to provide input into the government’s Work & Pensions Select Committee’s Assistive Technology Inquiry at the end of January.
AbilityNet has previously called on the Government to enforce the legal requirement for websites and apps to be accessible in accordance with the Equality Act 2010. And this was another chance for the organisation to campaign for digital inclusion.
Robin said: “Much of recruitment is now online; the problem is that inaccessible websites and online application systems remain a big barrier for disabled people looking for a job. It is encouraging to see accessibility, assistive technology and the importance of digital inclusion being highlighted in this enquiry.
“For far too long (nearly two decades now) we have had legislation without action or impact. Still today well over 90% of websites do not meet the base level of accessibility (single-A compliance).
“But the legal requirement is much higher (AA) – the result is an enormous disenfranchised but hugely valuable cohort of the working population.
“People with disabilities should benefit greatly from the additional energy and priority the government are providing through this enquiry.
“The result, we hope, will be more enforcement, more proactivity in applying adjustments to assist applicants and employees to perform at their best. And more business benefits for companies everywhere as they embrace inclusion and diversity in their products and processes.”
If you’re unsure whether your digital communications are truly accessible, carry out accessibility user testing and audits to find out. Then take the necessary actions to make your digital communications accessible. Digital accessibility charity AbilityNet can help your organisation to comply with the law and maximise the reach of your digital content.
#5 Talk about your Diversity & Inclusion journey
This may sound like a cliché, but achieving true diversity and inclusion is a journey for any organisation. It takes determination and persistence to get started and make significant progress.
In the words of accessibility and digital inclusion expert, and diversity and inclusion advocate Neil Milliken: “If you want to be an advocate for diversity and inclusion, you need the three P’s: passion, persuasion and perseverance.”
It’s like any other journey. It may take you a while, with some unexpected twists and turns, but you can get there in the end if you don’t give up.
And you need to talk about your journey along the way. Never underestimate the power of story. We all have a story to tell and every story can inspire great change.
And the more you tell, the more you sell. The more you share the knowledge and experiences from within your organisation, including best practice, the more you will inspire others to follow you and take positive action.
Catherine Grinyer is the Managing Director and owner of specialist diversity and inclusion communications consultancy Big Voice Communications, and a former Chair of the CIPR Diversity & Inclusion Forum.
She said: “There are now some notable organisations making real progress in their efforts to become truly diverse and inclusive.
“You only need to look at the likes of Barclays bank, which is committed to becoming the most accessible and inclusive company in the FTSE100.
“One thing that Barclays and other organisations taking big strides in diversity and inclusion usually have in common is that they are great at telling their story to the world.
“For example, they often have senior advocates, whose job titles even sometimes incorporate the term ‘evangelist’ (ie Hector Minto, Senior Technology Evangelist at Microsoft).
“They are employed to focus on spreading the message. Their mission is to preach about how their organisation is changing the world for the better.
“The point is these organisations get it. You do the right things for your staff and customers, then tell your story and make every word count.
“As always with PR, you should do the right thing and tell the world about it.”
Start talking about your organisation’s diversity and inclusion journey. If you need specialist support to help you do this contact diversity and inclusion communications consultancy Big Voice Communications.
Ensuring your organisation takes some or all of the actions on this list may be out of your direct control.
But you’re a professional communicator. Find a way to persuade those around you.
Share this blog with them, or anything else you think can persuade them to listen, think and act to make PR and communications more diverse and inclusive.
Even small steps can make a great difference.
And every journey starts with the first step. Take one now.
*Many thanks to Sarah Stimson, Sarah Hall, Avril Lee, Robin Christopherson, Catherine Grinyer and Koray Camgoz for contributing their time and ideas to this blog.