“I have lost business because I was a Black woman, but I’ve also gained business because I was a Black woman,” said LaTricia Woods, APR, owner of Mahogany Xan Communications in Chandler, Ariz. “Companies are looking for authentic storytellers and authentic representation.”
Woods was one of four panelists during PRSA’s Feb. 22 webinar, “Building a Better Workplace for Black Employees.” The latest in PRSA’s “Diverse Dialogues” series, the panel discussion was hosted by the PRSA Diversity & Inclusion Committee and the PRSA Black Voices Affinity Group.
“One thing I’ve learned in my career is to use what makes you different to your advantage,” said Netta Conyers-Haynes, vice president of communications for the Sequoia Consulting Group in San Francisco and the event’s moderator.
Communicators can’t do their jobs if they don’t reflect their clients, the markets they seek to serve and the communities in which they operate, said panelist Sheryl Battles, vice president of global diversity, inclusion and engagement for Pitney Bowes in Stamford, Conn. “That is what our industry — and industries around the world — are having to reckon with.”
For organizations that say they can’t find diverse talent, “this is both a pipeline issue and a promotion issue,” Battles said. “Have you broadened your view enough to look for talent in places where the talent is, versus where you have always looked before? Or versus where you’re going to find those who look exactly like you?”
And once they’re hired, “it’s about what happens to that talent,” Battles said. “It’s about advancement and promotion. Because if you don’t allow that talent to be who they are — fully, completely, authentically and openly — then you are suppressing the best that they have to give.”
Teams that say they can’t diversify aren’t putting in the effort, Woods said. “We are there if you put on your lens to find us. And it’s not that hard to do.” Still, it takes work to find the right hires. “You want people that fit your team, who can represent your clients well.”
Early in the pandemic, panelist Daphne Dickerson lost her job at an agency that promoted live entertainment in Atlanta. But then “My network of Black women came through,” she said. “Within five to seven days, I had a freelance gig.” The topics were new and challenging, but she adapted. “Grit, determination and resilience are the tools that we need in this industry,” said Dickerson, who is now group director for strategic communications at Coca-Cola.
Mentors and advocates
Panelist Victor Scott, vice president and chief communications officer for the pharmaceutical segment of Cardinal Health in Dublin, Ohio, had been a program manager at an aerospace company before he transitioned into communications.
“I have been blessed with some mentors who have shaped and guided my career and my outlook inside of our industry,” he said. Those advisers helped him see “how marketing communications and public relations had an impact on not only the business, but also on society at large.”
For Black, entry-level professionals, “Find a mentor, find an advocate,” Dickerson said. “Earn those relationships. And they don’t have to look like you.” At the same time, she said, “be bold, be brave and be a student of the craft. Be prepared and know what you’re talking about.”
Scott agreed. “Be the subject-matter expert in your field,” he said. “Possess confidence in who you are. You get self-confidence by doing the work beforehand. Your skills, talents and abilities and education, have you in that room for a reason. You belong there just as much as anybody else.”
Greg Beaubien is a frequent contributor to PRSA publications.