Editor’s note: In celebration of Black History Month in February, PRSA invited leaders in the public relations profession to offer their views on diversity and inclusion and their ideas for achieving greater diversity in the industry.
The first time someone shows you who they are believe them.
– Maya Angelou
Okay, it’s 2016 and we are still mostly talking about diversity and inclusion, like it’s a great idea and we really ought to pursue it one of these days. Certainly, we’ve made some important progress, but I could cite numerous examples of actions taken or not taken by various organizations in the name of diversity and inclusion, which suggest that neither diversity nor inclusion was at top of mind after all.
I believe that my PR and strategic communications colleagues – the few of us who are already “seated at the table” and seriously discussing the issue on an ongoing basis – have spoken eloquently about what would happen if the concerns of various diverse groups were not taken into consideration before important policies were established and key decisions were made. However, let’s acknowledge that many of the most enthusiastically diverse organizations are still not particularly diverse at all, and “inclusion” is mostly a policy of inviting people of color and to assimilate into the majority culture as best they can without open obstruction or public recognition of the persistent, age-old discomfort with, and resistance to, change.
So now what? We’ve had the well-meaning training, we’ve worked within the committees that have pledged to act, we’ve written the persuasive articles, and we’ve made the uplifting speeches. Regardless of what we do and the importance of the goal, we have to accept that human beings make decisions, form opinions, and behave a certain way based on their experience of reality. Developing an awareness of those differing realities, let alone taking actions based on them, then creating messaging and communicating through appropriate channels to drive results, is the challenge facing us as effective, professional communicators. We have to go beyond diversity as a concept and shift our efforts toward inclusion as an action plan. In simple terms, diversity is the mix; inclusion is getting the mix to work well together.
Where do we go from here? Here’s what I think: Despite important gains, the struggle continues, and in fact it will become even more difficult in the days ahead, but we must resolve to continue going forward – for every person who is dedicated to making our world better, there is another who wants to take us back to the “good-old days,” and resistance will grow evermore passionate in response to evermore change. But I remain optimistic. There has been a resurgence of activism, while the power of social media lies in giving voice to every individual instead of only those who can afford a platform. The world is swiftly shrinking, making all problems everybody’s problems, and it becomes increasingly clear each day that we have to get along if we want to survive at all. In short, I suggest that diversity and inclusion will become essential elements of both business and personal relationships in a world where insulated thinking is simply worthless, if not destructive.
The world is swiftly shrinking, making all problems everybody’s problems, and it becomes increasingly clear each day that we have to get along if we want to survive at all. In short, I suggest that diversity and inclusion will become essential elements of both business and personal relationships in a world where insulated thinking is simply worthless, if not destructive.
Enlightened and informed PR professionals (from Baby Boomers to GenX’ers to Millennials and beyond) who understand that diversity and inclusion are not only powerful weapons against ignorance and all of the wrongheaded “isms”of the world, but who also know that diversity and inclusion are indispensable keys to future success, will become ever more invaluable to their employers and clients. They are the messengers, the harbingers, the prophets of great change, and as their message grows more and more undeniable, they will be the ones to lead the way. Those practitioners who possess the ability to create messaging that resonates with diverse groups, and that fosters inclusion, will be in high demand.
More importantly, they will be the ones who have been right all along.
Debra A. Miller, Ed.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, is the director of public relations and marketing at Quarles & Brady LLP. She is the recipient of both the Gold Anvil and the D. Parke Gibson Awards and became the first African-American president of PRSA in 1997.