Why DE&I Needs to Be More Than an HR Initiative

We are living in an interesting point in history, a turning point really, where you would be hard-pressed to find an organization that isn’t focusing efforts and resources, at least to some degree, on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).

Research proves that DE&I is critical to the success, profitability, employee retention, client satisfaction and overall longevity of any organization, and companies everywhere are establishing best practices that go well beyond an EEO statement on a job description.

Remember that diversity goes beyond race and ethnicity — it includes gender identity, orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical ability, religious beliefs and more. DE&I is hugely important to an organization’s internal culture too, and those in leadership positions are becoming staunch advocates for diversity.

Within the PR space, more clients are demanding to see diversity within the ranks of their service provider teams.

Despite the gravity and importance of DE&I work, the bulk of this work tends to fall on the shoulders of none other than — you guessed it — human resources teams. More so, women and minorities get tapped disproportionately to spearhead these initiatives.

Even with the dawn of the chief diversity officer role in many organizations, it must be stressed that DE&I needs to be more than another HR initiative, a check-box program or a lofty “nice to have.”

If anything, everyone should be responsible for championing diversity and inclusion to some degree, with full executive-level support and dedicated teams, all working in conjunction with human resources and talent acquisition — a horizontal effort, in other words, not only a vertical one. In any industry, we all need to play a role in creating more equitable organizations.

In public relations, the communicator plays a role of ever-increasing prominence in DE&I. When you look at the PR landscape, however, there is a significant lack of diversity. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the PR profession in the United States is predominantly white at just over 80 percent, less than 9 percent Black or African American, less than 13 percent Hispanic or Latino, and less than 7 percent Asian American.

Considering how the country is becoming more multicultural at a rapid pace, this is both interesting and problematic. We should be thinking about who PR professionals serve, and furthermore, we should look to see if their teams are diverse and representative of those they serve.

When looking at these daunting figures, how can we begin to go about impacting needed change? You have to look at leadership and restructure as needed. You have to invest in education. You have to actively recruit with diversity top of mind. And, you have to provide meaningful opportunities and recognition, while celebrating and encouraging diversity of thought.

Words matter, and so does the team. Think about it: How many failed campaigns have you seen recently that were completely tone-deaf, ill-timed and simply ended up creating a serious reputational crisis for a company? Had the team responsible been more diverse, perhaps the error could have been avoided entirely. It’s not enough to have good intentions.

Consumers today expect the most from brands, and it is your responsibility, dear communicator, to help guide these organizations in the moment, using the right language to deliver a message both relevant and empathetic, to reach increasingly diverse and discerning audiences.

An opportunity — and responsibility 

PR professionals have a unique opportunity — a responsibility, frankly — to steer massive impact to an organization’s DE&I efforts, both internally and externally. Instead of picking and choosing DE&I elements to include in your messaging, put DE&I at the forefront of your strategic planning. Take a look around the table and learn to truly listen, adapt to the market and widen the narrative.

Impacting change is indeed a challenge, but this is an exciting moment to get involved. It is time to check your biases at the door (unconscious or otherwise). If you don’t know where to start, then seek an external vendor for guidance. There is an incredible wealth of service providers and educators out there to get your team off on the right foot concerning everything about DE&I in the workplace.

What it comes down to is this: The world is watching, and our children are paying attention. The PR profession must set a higher bar, embrace diversity in their teams and the societies they serve, and work to actively address inequities.

It’s never too late to integrate the principles and values of DE&I into your work, to enhance both your organization’s cultural competencies and those of your clients and constituents.

Christina Stokes is the vice president and director of talent acquisition at Rubenstein. She is passionate about refining and enhancing employee engagement, company culture, and diversity and inclusion efforts. She is the “Hire & Seek” columnist for Strategies & Tactics. Connect with her on Twitter: @NewYorkRoses.

[Illustration credit: lebendigger]

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