Diversity

is tough

19.04.2017

Verve Communications is diverse by nature. There’s no overarching plan to ensure we’re inclusive and diverse. Yet we are. We have no real evidence that our clients notice, but we know it makes a difference to how we work. As a member of the CIPR’s Diversity and Inclusion Forum (formerly Diversity Working Group), I’ve been part of some thought-provoking and informative discussions that have challenged my own preconceptions.

Changing the name from the DWG to the Diversity and Inclusion Forum acknowledged what we were hearing in the many conversations with PR and recruitment agencies, employers and PR professionals we had spoken to in a series of events, meetings and research. PR must be inclusive. Diversity is an inevitable consequence of inclusivity. Our clients hire us to help them engage, inform and influence the people who matter to them. I believe that to influence you need to understand, and part of that understanding is gained from looking for the most excluded members of the intended audience.

During last week’s Mental Health Awareness Week event, the Forum organised a second event to talk about mental health. Two excellent speakers reminded us that the language we use to describe mental health matters, and what we can all do in our own organisations to foster a culture where people can talk about what’s happening to them openly knowing they’ll be supported by colleagues.

A couple of years ago a similar event proved to be a revealing and at times, emotional, session where many people talked frankly about the difficulties of dealing with mental health issues as a PR practitioner. People talked about how hard it was to be open about feelings of stress and depression with employers and colleagues who they felt might see them as no longer up to the job. This year, there was a real sense that the public debate around mental health had moved on, and it was just a bit easier to talk about the issue, welcome progress.

But diversity is tough, and making people really feel ‘included’ is equally challenging. There are no ‘quick fixes’ or shortcuts. If we want to understand why it’s so difficult, we need look no further than what is happening on our own doorstep where crisis in one part of the world reveals just how difficult nations find it to accept those seeking a better future – for some any kind of future.

In business, the drivers for diversity are clear, yet no industry has managed to address all aspects of diversity entirely, and some have a very long way to go. As the DWG finalised their report on diversity in PR, the Civil Service, UCAS and other public institutions announced they will be moving to a system of ‘name blind’ applications. Global tech companies have acknowledged the woeful absence of diversity in a rapidly growing workforce.

Progress is being made in PR as businesses start to understand the business imperative to be diverse within their respective sectors and inclusive by nature. But diversity is not a badge to be picked up and worn on special occasions. We must change our expectations. We should use words that include people, not simply demonstrate knowledge. Getting diversity and inclusion right within our industry puts us ahead of our clients. It makes us the experts on communicating with diverse audiences. It means we can help our clients achieve business objectives and add real value to the work we do.  And, if we don’t understand how to do that, and become skilled at delivering more inclusive campaigns, then we have failed at our job.

PR leaders are ultimately responsible for driving industry change and there are plenty of resources available to help them achieve this. We need to approach the act of being ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive’ strategically, paying attention to all its aspects. It needs to become, as we believe it is at Verve, just something we are and something we do.

Alex Louis