How to increase diversity and inclusion in PR
February is LGBTQ+ History Month in the UK and so we wanted to take a moment to talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion in PR.
A recent PR Week study revealed that 1 in 5 UK PR agencies have an all-white employee workforce. Whilst The Public Relations and Communications Association’s (PRCA) flagship annual UK PR and Communications Census, revealed that 89% of PRs identify as heterosexual.
So why is our industry so lacking in diversity and how can we create a more diverse and inclusive environment in PR? We hear from Cherish PR Founder and parent company Co-founder of The Wilful Group, Rebecca Oatley, about her experience starting off in the PR industry, nurturing people early on in their careers and the change in pressure to conform in what has historically been a hard-to-crack sector.
At Cherish, we are 30% Black British, 10% Asian American, 20% Asian British, 30% White British and 20% White Other. We’re proud to be international, ethnically diverse and we’re a pretty small company. We don’t have diversity targets or rules, but we recruit to values first then skills and experience, and this means that we’re naturally and actively recruiting diversely. So how does this work in practice?
Ditching the label
Diversity by its very nature implies that we fall into groups; labels categorised by our ethnic background, gender, sexuality, neurodiversity, even physical ability, but in reality the only thing that truly defines us is, well, whatever we want it to be.
That’s easier said than done, right? Human nature needs to classify and rank. It’s the first thing we do when we meet someone, we ask “What do you do?” That’s it you’re labelled already. So we say, take anything that may encourage classification and stereotypes out of the process and start with the person.
So how can you recruit diversely?
Certain sectors naturally attract certain types of people. What appeals to us personally will drive our professional choices. As an employer we feel that it’s important to make our business attractive to all types of people and professionals. That’s why we start with thinking about our corporate environment, our policies and procedures, the HR function and the requirements of the role to naturally encourage a real diversity of respondents.
Soft skills first
We’re not alone in flipping the traditional recruitment process by focusing on values and soft skills first. We ask questions like, what are you really proud of? What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you? How do you deal with a personal challenge? What are your personal goals and ambitions? It’s only then that we look at skills and experience. This means that our first choices are not based on what school or university a candidate went to, or that they have a certain degree or have come through an institution. Our shortlist is based on values and that opens up the process to many more people from diverse backgrounds.
Give people a break early on. As you begin your career, the institutional barriers are at their lowest. We see the most diverse applications coming from interns or first jobbers and some of our best consultants have started their career with us. We believe that by investing in people at an early stage, we can cultivate great talent and foster diversity in a positive environment.
When I first started in PR, I came up against racism, sexism and I’m sure I’ll face ageism too. In agencies, there was too much pressure to conform and this is only starting to change now. In an age of disruption, let’s tackle conformism by celebrating and encouraging difference. I like being 53 and I want to celebrate what my experience brings to Cherish PR. Just as I want my team to celebrate their differences too.
So let’s make our differences something that unites us not drives us apart, and if we celebrate that in our culture, our business will become so much stronger for it.
Rebecca Oatley is Wilful Group Co-founder and Cherish PR Founder.