Updated: Oct 8, 2021
‘Agency life’ often comes with the (fairly accurate) notion that someone with an old t-shirt, comfortable jeans, coloured hair and visible tattoos will be wholeheartedly accepted into the fold. But diversity and inclusion is more than just opening your doors to people who look and act differently from the crowd.
When you think about diversity and inclusion policies (D&I) at the workplace, the public relations industry rarely comes to mind. In fact, D&I conversations are usually restricted to the HR role since they are the ones that oversee critical functions such as hiring, talent management, retention and employee engagement.
But public relations and advertising agencies really need to step it up a notch to create better opportunities for individuals from different cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities and sexual orientations. And it starts from the top.
1. Less Talk, More Action
Diversity needs to start with and be incorporated into a brand’s hiring practices from day one. With the pace that the current workforce is evolving at, individuals with little to no knowledge of public relations are now learning transferable skills that can be utilized across a variety of functions. The message here is that agencies need to look beyond their usual hiring pool to attract diverse talent. Today, a content creator can also be a digital marketer. And a PR professional might also be a social media influencer. The combinations are endless, thus lifting the lid on limited opportunities within the industry.
Take a look at the U.S public relations industry for example – comprising of 87.9 percent whites, 8.3 percent African Americans, 2.6 percent Asian Americans and 5.7 percent Hispanic Americans. However, closer to home, the public relations landscape is leaning towards a more women-led workforce with women CEOs leading two out of the top five PR firms.
2. But what does this have to do with hiring in public relations?
Everything! When diversity and inclusion are pioneered from the top-down, it helps create a culture of belonging and security across the firm. In terms of recruitment, it is human to hire an individual with a similar ethnicity or similar education. So when talent acquisition teams in PR firms are comprised of men or women from similar cultures or backgrounds, the new hires might tend to look like younger versions of the interviewers themselves. One of the best ways for leaders to change this practice is to ask their employees what D&I means to them. Collect feedback on existing hiring policies and rework them to include fresh perspectives and suggestions on how to make recruitment a friendlier process.
3. Read the room
Once talent acquisition has undergone an internal revamp, PR firms need to also take a look at the type of communication that they send out and the hiring campaigns that they run. If your brand is constantly struggling to attract and retain great talent, there could be something wrong with the language and positioning of your recruitment communications! If these campaigns reflect a lack of diversity and do not come across as being inclusive, there are very slim chances that exceptional candidates are going to apply. Circle back to your current workforce and run your hiring campaigns by them to ensure that a wide range of perspectives are included.
While this might be easier to do for bigger PR firms than for start-ups, there are other ways for newer brands to incorporate diversity and inclusion practices into their business model. Creating a support network or linking new employees to a support group within the industry is a great way to encourage having the D&I conversation at work. Although having a D&I officer is a fairly recent concept, they tend to streamline the corporate communications, HR function and PR arm of a company in such a way that D&I efforts become part and parcel of daily agency life.