A decade of promises and good intentions

In August 2016, I wrote a blog looking forward to 2020.

Several media bodies had begun diversity reviews and initiatives with the initial results of those programmes to be announced in that year.

The likes of the BBC and Channel 4 had looked in the mirror and came up with a series of recommendations to increase diversity in the workplace by 2020.

This looked promising and challenged the idea doing the rounds at the time of Diversity Fatigue. Remember diversity fatigue? (‘Yes. We know it is good for business and just plain common sense; no need to mention it again.’)

My initial blog Diversity 2.0: In The Year 2020 challenged the notion of diversity fatigue and whether this work would run out of support. I concluded several positive/constructive reports hitting the public consciousness on this topic could help move things forward.

My follow-up blog Diversity 2.1: In The Year 2020 (An update) expanded on this.

The Government Communication Service made a pledge to increase its numbers to 14% by May 2020; they had 12% in 2016 and 2017 and there was even a 2017 pledge by Chris Skidmore, Minister for the Constitution, Cabinet Office, to monitor each quarter the performance of the profession against the strategy as part of his role as Chair of the GCS Ministerial board.

Remember, this was a time when despite the best endeavours of those waiting to see improvements in PR, change was not in their own hands, but in the hands of others in positions of power and influence…

We either had to prove the need for change, gain supporters at the top of the profession, or embarrass the industry into making that change.

At times nothing happened and the success, or perhaps the ‘miracle’, was to keep diversity and inclusion on the agenda when it could have so easily have fallen off, replaced by another ‘worthy cause’.

So, as I approached 2020, I hoped that enough had been done to not only see these findings publicised, but also to hold people to account if they did not support recommended changes.

Then 2020 came along.

Or to be precise May 2020 and the death of George Floyd. And everything was thrown up in into the air catching seemingly everyone by surprise.

I and many others have spent years keeping diversity and inclusion on the agenda in public relations, and, I hoped, beyond and suddenly it is at the very top of the PR agenda.

The silent majority of publics/communities/audiences/consumers/stakeholders are now demanding more of the people in power. They are calling people out for either hollow promises or lethargy.

The PR Industry, like many others, finds itself having to explain why change has not progressed as far or as quickly as it could have done. And publicly, having to pledge to far-reaching improvements across the board.

Now, it’s not enough to be a supportive but silent ally, the call is to be a proactive ally – otherwise you are an obstacle and part of the problem.

It’s fair to say that during the ten years of the CIPR’s Diversity Working Group/Diversity and Inclusion Forum, good wishes have not translated to sustained action regarding diversity in Public Relations.

But times change.

PR Practitioners now want, no demand, real change.

Statements from industry bodies and major agencies herald a major step-change that despite the singular lack of improvement, things may finally be progressing to the satisfaction of BME PR practitioners.

Industry leaders are beginning to reach out to BME PR professionals to ask for guidance, advice and counsel on how to be the change. But they should first ask, ‘what has it been like to be a BME PR practitioner over the last few decades?’

Many BME PR professionals have been victims of micro-aggressions, victimisation and overt discrimination. A report by the CIPR, published today and found here, discusses this in greater detail with testimony from BME PROs about the issues they have faced.

This report a follow-up to one from 2015 which paints a picture of no progress in that numbers of BME PR practioners have been falling and those who remain do not stay long as they see little opportunity for advancement.

It is shameful that this ‘open secret’ has not been eradicated, and that discriminatory practices remain.

As a body we should not only embrace diversity and inclusion, we also need to address discriminatory practices. Pure and simple.

The Black Lives Matters movement has emboldened and encouraged people to talk about the PR industry and its lack of support for BME members. One BME PR figure has said she has received 170 messages from practitioners detailing such discrimination.

The message is clear.

Enough is enough. We are PR Professionals and we demand to be respected and treated as such.

The PR industry world-wide has thrown its weight behind BlackLivesMatter movement, now it needs to act by acting on the recommendations made over the years.

If previously they strove to be colour-blind, agencies and organisations must accept that there are issues of race that need to be confronted and dealt with. The leaders of the PR industry are quickly realising that they must accept and embrace this new tomorrow, or they will very quickly be out of step with the mood of the publics they seek to influence.

The change that I and so many have pushed and argued for is now.

Cornelius Alexander

Here is a breakdown of the various initiatives due to report-back in 2020.

The Government Communications Service (GCS) pulled together a Diversity and Inclusion strategy to improve the representation within the GCS by the end of parliament – May 2020.

  • Improve senior civil service level diversity and in particular representation of women at Director of Communications level;
  • Improve representation of BAME and disability for employees at all grades in line with the UK census (14% BAME, 9.4% disability), focussing on our talent pipelines to senior civil service grades; and
  • Attract and retain GCS early talent from poorer socio-economic backgrounds.
  • We will use reverse mentoring and co-mentoring to help leaders better understand views, perspectives and experiences of those from different backgrounds. The BBC has promised that women will make up half of its workforce on-screen, on-air and in leadership roles by 2020.
  • And the broadcaster also wants 15 per cent of its workforce to be drawn from BAME backgrounds for staff and leadership roles. Channel 4 also said that it would increase the diverse balance of its teams by 15% by 2020.  The year 2020 also pops up in the CIPR’s own PR 2020 report in which it seeks, among other objectives, to address issues in diversity in employment and build a structure that brings experience together with fresh new talent. The 30% Club wants a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-350 boards by 2020. In addition – and in order to ensure that this 30% minimum at board level remains sustainable – the 30% Club is also introducing a new pipeline target of a minimum of 30% women on executive committees of FTSE-100 companies by 2020.

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Found. Chartered PR Practitioner, CIPR Fellow and CIPR D+I member. Liverpool, Dortmund and Cubs fan, traveller, movie buff, sci-fi geek. Looking for career opportunities.

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