Diversity in the workplace – actions speak louder than words

By Aliya Vigor-Robertson, Founder, JourneyHR,

Last year was a landmark year for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The introduction of gender pay gap reporting sought to level the playing field between men and women, while the MeToo movement empowered thousands of people across the world to share their experiences, sparking a much-needed call to action. Importantly, companies began to recognise and discuss diversity and inclusion as a key driver behind organisational success and employee engagement.

But, while we have undoubtedly made progress, there is still much more ground to cover. The latest figures from the CIPR revealed that 28% of the public relations workforce have attended private school; four times the national average. Meanwhile, the number of ethnically diverse employees has fallen to a five-year low, with 92% of PR professionals described as white.

As an industry, we need to focus on building businesses that challenge the status quo and represents the wider population, encouraging different perspectives, attitudes and backgrounds.

While diversity reporting is a positive step forward in providing greater transparency and encouraging companies to track their progress, we must be careful to look at the bigger picture. What happens after the report? What actions are being taken to improve the level of diversity within companies?

Diversity reporting is simply not enough to drive real change – businesses need to be actively engaged in change and not just consider diversity in the hiring process, but create an environment focused upon retaining staff. Diversity needs to be part of the business model and everyone in the business, from top to bottom, is responsible for ensuring the organisation lives and breathes inclusivity.

Hiring with a focus on attracting a more diverse workforce will only work if those people are welcomed, nurtured and given opportunities to thrive. If people are simply hired because of a box-ticking exercise and don’t become a valued part of the business, or experience other people from diverse backgrounds doing well, the process will become unsustainable.

Business leaders should make a concerted effort to recognise their biases and work to create an organisation where diversity is encouraged and can flourish. The best way to achieve this is through role models.

While the PR industry boasts 66% women, very few of these women sit at board level, while ethnic diversity is shockingly low and neurodiversity is only just beginning to come on to the business radar.

We need to see more male business leaders championing diversity. Leaders have a huge role to play in creating the culture of an organisation and by visibly and vocally highlighting the importance of diversity and inclusion, this mindset will filter its way through.

A great way of encouraging a more diverse workforce is through an apprenticeship programme that encourages people from less affluent or more diverse backgrounds to apply.

But diversity is not just an issue for business leaders; it is a challenge we all need to accept and take ownership of if we are to make a lasting difference. Open and supportive workplaces, where staff are encouraged to communicate honestly as well as mentor and learn from each other regardless of title, background or experience, will help all staff feel more appreciated, valued and included and this will ultimately lead to greater employee engagement and retention.

Committing to increasing and nurturing diversity will not only positively impact a business’ workforce, but also its bottom line. According to McKinsey, companies who were rated as having the most diverse executive-board were much likelier to financially outperform their industry counterparts.

Communications is an industry that is built upon creative ideas and approaches and key to achieving success will be the melting pot of different ideas, inspiration and innovation that diversity offers.

Photo by Rajshri Bharath KS on Unsplash

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