Diversity in PR

Diversity In PR – The Race Is On

The issue of diversity in PR isn’t a new one – if we’re really, honest, the PR industry is built on stereotypes and it’s something that often works in our favour. PR professionals spend every day making assumptions about people and their habits, to help clients sell their products and services to them. However, when this becomes dangerous is when diversity doesn’t reach the top or the incoming talent pool. That’s not to say there aren’t incredibly talented and passionate people who thrive in the PR industry… there just aren’t enough of them when you look at the population of the country.

Some simple stats from the PRCA show the true lack of diversity in PR. It’s a young (average age 28) female-led (64%) industry; neither of which are particularly unsurprising. But when you realise that that only 34% of PR professionals have children or dependents, it explains not just the low average age but also showcases that women aren’t returning to work after becoming parents. Added to which, the true lack of diversity in PR comes with the shocking revelation that the industry is 91% white people, 89% of which are British. Talk to me about true representation there, when you look at the population of the UK and how wonderfully eclectic it is. We are failing. Badly.

So, where are we going wrong?

There are so many factors that we need to look at when tackling the lack of diversity in PR… and we need to address them fast! As an agency owner, I want to ensure that my team is representative of the people that we’re trying to sell brands to, and if we’re not diverse in terms of age, race, background and so on, then how are we ever going to understand how to reach these customers? Better still, how will we ever diversify the clients that we represent? This, in itself, makes a strong business case not to mention the glaringly obvious reason that we need more diversity in PR… because we should!

To me, the thought of people wanting to join the industry but not feeling welcome or able is heartbreaking. I’ve always wanted to work in PR and I love every single day of it, so I don’t want anyone missing out for any reason. Whatever your ethnicity, cultural beliefs, learning abilities, or mental health challenges, you should never not feel welcome in the PR world. If anything, these Diversity Dimensions (see page seven of the Professional and Business Services Council’s ‘Diversity and Inclusion Guide for Business’) make you an even more interesting and exciting work colleague and employee. Nothing beats a (virtual… ‘coz Covid) water cooler conversation with people who share interests but have different stories and viewpoints.

So, how can we create change?

The good news is that there are already some positive moves in the PR world – some people who are really standing up and challenging the lack of diversity in PR. The PRCA has a Diversity Network and you’ll find a host of helpful resources from the CIPR. An absolutely incredible move is the launch of The Blueprint diversity mark, which awards organisations who are truly committed to removing inequality and barriers to progression. I’m reading up on this a lot at the moment, as I want to ensure that EAST VILLAGE. is a truly representative agency and really leads the way.

One of the few agencies recently awarded the diversity mark is Stronger Stories, a social enterprise who I absolutely love. Their Chief Executive, Guy Pattison, spoke powerfully in PR Week about the kite mark:

“If I could choose one storytelling superpower that would give me next-level empathy and insight, fresh creativity and new ways to solve problems, I’d choose diversity. The biggest hurdle is owning your privilege and mistakes. But defeating that ‘inner villain’ isn’t hard when The Blueprint shows you the way, and your work can have a more positive impact on the world as a result. Who doesn’t want that?”

As with anything relating to diversity and inclusion, it’s all about educating yourself, finding the right resources, and holding yourself accountable.

So, what else can we do to get more diversity in PR?

Stop with the stereotypes – I love Ab Fab as much as the next, but the PR industry isn’t all champagne brunches and red carpet glamour. Tell your truth and showcase the good, the bad and the ugly but, most importantly, don’t just share the ‘highlights reel’.

Rip up the recruitment handbook – Create new processes, such as D&I focused job descriptions and blind recruitment, removing personal details from applications. PR shouldn’t be about First Class Honours degrees because that’s not the route for everyone; look at apprenticeships, job swaps and on-the-job training.

Embrace flexible working – Of course I‘m going to say this, but I truly believe that flexible working can open up a wider talent pool and encourage more diversity in PR. Removing the 9-5, inner city commute can start to welcome a host of wonderful people into your business.  

Showcase diversity at the top – Lead by example with a diverse leadership team. I don’t fully buy into ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ (sometimes, you’ve got to be the one leading the way), but every organisation has the responsibility to put D&I at the top of its leadership agenda.

Open up the conversation – don’t just create ‘safe spaces’ for people to ask questions and raise issues (although this is very important) but take mentoring and reverse mentoring seriously; encouraging your workforce to learn from each other.  

Understand the barriers to entry – whether it’s ensuring that all internships are paid or that your office is fit for purpose for someone with a physical disability, get to grips with why you’re not attracting diverse talent. And then fix it.

‘PR’ the industry – often, a big issue is that people don’t know what PR is, so go out there and teach the leaders of tomorrow about the industry and why it’s for them. Do talks in schools, colleges and universities; run free webinars online; and showcase the diversity in your team on your website and social channels. It’s simple really.

This is just the start… there are so many ways that organisations can attract a more diverse workforce – check out the presentation I gave at Black Business Live a few weeks ago. An initiative sponsored by Natwest, the online event brought black business leaders together to talk about their passion and impact in their respective industries, to an incredibly diverse and engaged audience all in support of the moral obligation and undoubtable commercial benefits to more diversity.

I am also completely honoured to be a founding member of BPFS Black Leaders Network; a collective of established leaders from across the Business, Professional and Financial Services (BPFS) sector in the West Midlands. The objective of the network is to demonstrate that diverse and inclusive leadership is a true driver for change and the key to unlocking the sector’s growth, and as we gear up to launch, I am so excited about the impact we’re going to have. Give us a follow on Twitter and watch this space for more!

There’s a lot of work to be done to address the lack of diversity in PR but moves are being made and I’m determined to be part of this much-needed overhaul.

Tara Tomes