Why is a Diverse PR Team Important?
Is having a diverse PR team important? We know workplace diversity isn’t a new concept. In the US it’s been around since 1964, when the American Civil Rights Act illegalised employment discrimination. The UK introduced the Race Relations Act in 1968 and the Equalities Act in 2010.
But businesses have only started embracing it in the last decade.
This is largely due to the influence of social justice movements like #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and Time’s Up. Campaigns like these have exposed the inequalities that exist in society, demanded accountability, and fuelled a drive for change.
As a result, equality, inclusion, and diversity (DEI) has been put firmly under the spotlight.
This post takes a deep dive into diversity in public relations. We look at what diversity is, the current state of diversity in the PR industry, and the business benefits of a diverse PR team. We finish up with some tips to make your team more diverse.
Let’s take a look.
What is diversity?
Diversity refers to the characteristics, experiences, and other distinctions that make one person different from another. It encompasses everything, from our cognitive skills and personality traits to the things that shape our identity, including race, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation and cultural background.
Workplace diversity refers to the intentional practice of building a heterogeneous workforce by hiring and promoting people with different characteristics, from a wide range of backgrounds.
That’s the definition. Now let’s look at diversity and the law.
Employers in the UK have a legal responsibility to treat employees equally and fairly. The rules are laid out in the Equality Act 2010, which protects employees from discrimination against nine protected characteristics.
- gender reassignment
- marriage or civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation.
While the law is there to protect employees from unfair treatment, there are no rules about how diverse a workplace has to be. As a result, some sectors are ahead of the game, and others are falling behind.
Where does the PR industry stand?
While the industry has stepped up efforts to address the diversity gap in recent years, there’s still work to be done. This is evident from a report by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.
Levelling Up the Public Relations Profession shines a light on the current state of diversity in the PR industry.
Here are a few key findings:
- Almost 100,000 people work in the UK public relations industry.
- The majority of people working in PR are middle class and highly educated. 86% are university graduates.
- 89% of PR professionals are white.
- 66% of industry leaders are men, despite PR being a female-dominated profession.
- There’s a shortfall of around 13,500 people from wider socio-economic groups. This equates to more than 10% of the entire workforce.
- The average PR salary in London is £64,000, compared to £40,000 in Northern Ireland.
In a press release, Avril Lee, Chair of the CIPR’s Diversity & Inclusion Network, said of PR diversity:
‘As an industry, we have to do better on diversity – it is not representative of the population, and we are not consistently creating authentic and meaningful comms campaigns as a result. Those companies who take this seriously – who commit and reinvent structure, process, and culture to address diversity – are the ones who will do the best work, drive the best results, and lead our sector into a stronger future.’
Says it all really, doesn’t it?
Not familiar with the work of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations? Read: The CIPR: Everything You Need to Know.
The business case for diversity in public relations
As well as being the right thing to do, there’s a strong business case for diversity in the workplace.
Nzinga Shaw, chief diversity, equity & inclusion officer at Recording Academy, sums it up nicely in this quote. ‘The business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion is well-established. Organisations that hire globally improve their decision-making, increase employee engagement, unlock innovation, and spur economic growth.’
That’s the big picture. Now let’s look at why we need diversity in PR. What are the business benefits of diverse PR teams?
Here are a few, for starters.
1. Deeper audience insight
Let’s kick off with some stats. 51% of the UK population is female, 16 million people have a disability or long-term health condition, 24% are aged 60 and over, and nearly 18% are from an ethnic minority.
Regardless of the sector you work in, your audience is diverse. It’s made up of different ages, backgrounds, religions, sexual orientations, identities and abilities.
If your team doesn’t reflect the diversity of your audience, how can you communicate with them effectively?
As R. Couri Hay says in his blog post about diversity in public relations, ‘to connect with and represent the needs and perspectives of various stakeholders, including clients, media, and the public, PR professionals must reflect the diversity of those communities. When a company’s PR team comprises of people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, they can better communicate and connect with a wider range of people.’
Put simply, diverse PR teams can better understand and cater to diverse customer bases. What business doesn’t want that?
2. Stronger global relationships
Cross-cultural communication is easier with an international workforce.
As per this article by Ability Options, ‘a diverse range of cultures within the workplace allows companies to deal with the different nuances within a global marketplace. If a company does business with China, for example, having an employee who can speak Mandarin is an asset and can lead to improved workplace relations.’
A multicultural PR team can knock down language barriers and bridge gaps across continents with native knowledge of local dialects and cultural nuances.
3. More creativity and innovation
Edward Enninful, the former editor in chief of British Vogue once said, ‘without diversity, creativity remains stagnant.’
It makes sense. Think about it. If you put a homogeneous group of people together to work on a PR campaign, they’ll generate similar ideas. As Kenroi Consulting explains, ‘a homogeneous group, by its very nature, is tied together by the similarity of its characteristics’, which limits the scope for creativity and innovative thinking.’
On the flip side, a team composed of people with different upbringings, values, and life experiences will bring fresh perspectives and solutions to the table.
As Matthew Kaiserman says in a Media Frenzy Global article, ‘a unique blend of working styles and ideas allow for more successful brainstorms and insightful feedback. Team members can play off each other’s strengths, and each brings a unique set of skills to the table.’
Need more convincing? According to Deloitte Associate Director, Teji Susheela Vishwanath, a diverse workforce can enhance creativity and innovation by 20%. #PRwin.
4. Better brand perception
Social values are increasingly important to consumers. According to a study by Kantar, 53% of UK consumers’ purchase decisions are influenced by a brand’s diversity and inclusion efforts. And a survey by Deloitte Digital revealed that 57% of consumers are more loyal to brands that commit to addressing social inequities in their actions.
Building a diverse PR team and embedding solid Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives into your business are two sure fire ways to gain respect from your stakeholders and boost brand perception.
5. Crisis aversion
News travels around the world at breakneck speed thanks to social media and 24/7 news publications.
Just one cultural misstep can have far-reaching consequences. Dolce & Gabbana learnt this the hard way.
In 2018, the luxury fashion brand launched three short videos on Chinese social media network Weibo to promote their upcoming Shanghai fashion show. The 40-second ads depicted an Asian woman in a lavish Dolce & Gabbana dress clumsily using chopsticks to eat pizza, cannoli and spaghetti.
While she eats, a male narrator mocks her in Mandarin. ‘Is it too big for you?’ he says when the woman doesn’t know what to do with the cannoli. ‘Let’s use these small stick-like things to eat our great pizza margherita,’ he instructs in another video.
The ads were designed to promote the brand’s ‘DG Loves China’ campaign, but the love wasn’t reciprocated.
The videos triggered an instant outcry from the Chinese public.
Consumers took to Weibo to express their anger in droves. ‘That’s explicit racism’ one person commented on Weibo. ‘The videos show the brand’s outdated view about China.’ Another said, ‘I don’t know who you think your target audiences are but as a Chinese citizen and a loyal customer for years, this video is ridiculously offensive. It’s taking stereotype and ignorance to the next level. Y’all can’t be serious. I’m so DONE with you.’
To make matters worse, ecommerce stores pulled D&G products from their sites; the company’s Chinese brand ambassador, boy band star Wang Junkai, terminated his deal with the brand; and hundreds of Chinese models pulled out of the Shanghai show, forcing D&G to cancel it.
Not a great look for the fashion giant. Although D&G founders, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana proceeded to issue a heartfelt public apology, the damage was done.
The PR lesson
Expanding into new territories can be tricky. To do it effectively, you need to have a deep understanding of your target market, and the differences in culture, history, traditions, language, social norms and worldviews.
D&G clearly didn’t, which is why their campaign backfired.
To avoid the same fate, run your campaigns past a global team of PR bods. Their unique insight will ensure you don’t fall foul of embarrassing translation fails, cultural faux pas or tone-deaf messaging.
For more on navigating a crisis, read: Crisis Management in Public Relations.
How to improve diversity in public relations
As we’ve seen, there are many reasons to get on board with diversity in public relations. But how can you make your PR team more diverse? Here are a few top tips.
1. Review your hiring practices
A diverse PR workforce requires an inclusive recruitment process. Here are some tips:
- Make sure your job ads are inclusive
- Add a diversity statement to recruitment materials to highlight your commitment to an inclusive work environment
- Remove unnecessary obstacles in the application and interview process to improve accessibility
- Review CVs blind to reduce unconscious bias
- Actively seek out qualified candidates from underrepresented backgrounds by advertising on platforms like Ethnic Jobsite
- Offer reasonable adjustments at interviews
- Make flexible working the default. It’ll open up opportunities to working parents, disabled people, people with caring responsibilities, and international candidates.
It’s worth noting that 76% of jobseekers consider diversity an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers, according to a survey by Glassdoor. As diversity is important to job seekers, it needs to be a priority for you.
2. Prioritise diversity training
Attracting diverse PR talent is only half the battle. The other half is retaining it. One of the unique challenges of building a diverse PR team is the potential for conflict.
As this article by Parris Consulting explains, ‘where there’s difference, there may be differences. Wherever diversity exists – be it a mix of cultures, generations, work styles or even personalities – conflict has the potential to arise’.
Whether it’s due to cultural misunderstandings, unconscious bias, stereotyping or communication barriers, conflict is not conducive to a happy, healthy workforce.
This is where diversity training comes in. An important part of the diversity puzzle, training is a sure-fire way to ensure employees:
- are aware of diversity issues in the workplace
- appreciate the differences among co-workers
- understand how unconscious bias can impact their interactions with colleagues and clients
- Are equipped with the skills to interact, collaborate, and work together effectively.
However, diversity training isn’t only essential for employees. Diversity starts at the top.
As Gusto says in a blog post, ‘fostering a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) requires the active commitment and support of senior leadership’.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion training will ensure your head honchos are:
- equipped with the tools and skills to manage diverse teams
- able to prevent and resolve diversity-related conflicts
- implementing best practices when it comes to hiring, managing performance, and providing equal learning opportunities
- nurturing an environment where diverse talent can thrive and grow.
Embracing diversity in PR
Increasing PR diversity is a moral imperative and a strategic business advantage.
Multicultural PR teams are more innovative, productive, and better equipped to manage relationships in the global marketplace. If you’re not embracing diversity, you’re missing out.
As we’ve discovered, the PR industry has a way to go to align diversity ambition with reality. It’s not a quick fix. But one thing’s for sure: Meeting DEI expectations is essential to the future success of public relations.