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How can we ensure the PR industry is more diverse?

Adwoba Sekyim-Kwandoh, Intern here at Forster Communications

31 May 2018
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13% of the UK population is black, Asian, mixed or other ethnic group – we are a pretty diverse society but that isn’t reflected in the PR industry, as it is in so many other aspects of British life. Does it matter? If you believe that drawing talent from the widest pool possible and that a healthy industry should reflect the communities it serves, then hell yes.

Bibi Hilton at Golin London quite rightly suggests ‘you don’t simply get to great differentiating ideas if everyone in the team is the same ethnicity, social demographic or gender…. or in fact went to the same university’. But it makes you think what’s more important to a business; inclusivity and diversity within the workplace, or having a diverse workforce to get the job done? Though a diverse workforce may carry many benefits, it is said diversity can also lead to conflict. Sarah Stimson, Chief Exec of The Taylor Bennett Foundation believes that managing a diverse team is much more time consuming and demanding even if it ultimately makes for a better business.

It goes without saying hiring for diversity alone isn’t sustainable or advisable. Agencies needs to take a holistic approach to creating an inclusive workplace where individuals feel welcome and happy to be themselves and share their thoughts and ideas. Having completed the 2017 traineeship of The Taylor Bennett Foundation, a charity that exists to encourage black, Asian and ethnic minority graduates to pursue a career in communications, I think there is still a lot of work to be done in this regard.

You wouldn’t believe the number of agencies we visited who lacked real diversity, even bizarrely from those who boast to be best in class. It’s not that there is no diversity in the industry it is the lack of it throughout all levels. As the industry does not reflect the UK’s ever changing demographic, how do we deliver compelling campaigns to a diverse population and expect the same insights? This in itself is a communication problem, which is ironic, given that’s what the PR industry is meant to be good at solving.

The PR industry finds itself in the position of being unrepresentative of the very people it is trying to reach on behalf of clients so different cultural perspectives and demographics are more important than ever. Nonetheless how do you attract individuals from a diverse background who potentially may not know a career in public relations exists? We’re quick to praise captivating campaigns and those behind it without any judgement, but condemn somewhat offensive messages as and when they appear with the diversity flag hovering. I wonder if the Kendal Jenner and Pepsi ad or the Dove advert of a black woman changing her t-shirt and becoming a white woman and then later an Asian woman, would have received such backlash if the agencies did in fact have a diverse workforce. Here at Forster Communications, a leading agency for social change PR, we strive for inclusion and with the mantra social change PR needs leadership from the top, it is imperative to work with senior leaders and boards to articulate their values and their passion for change.

I’m two months into my journey through social change PR and can’t begin to describe how much I have learnt thus far. From an introduction on tackling human trafficking and modern slavery in the UK to an unsurprising note that society is not as welcoming to knowing their neighbours as you’d think with The Big Lunch, this part of my career journey has become the most interesting to say the least!

The Taylor Bennett Foundation, strives for connecting individuals from BAME backgrounds with positions in the PR and communications industry. With support from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and PRCA it is important other companies also get involved to encourage BAME individuals to join their workforce. CEO Sarah Stimson comments ‘with commitment from the industry it is achievable, but it will take sustained and determined investment of time and finances from PR firms to make it happen.’ So let’s get the ball rolling!