If you work in PR and keep track of the industry, you’ll know that there is a diversity issue:

  • It is a predominately white industry (92%)
  • Over a quarter of PR practitioners (27%) went to a fee-paying school (versus a UK average of 7%)
  • Six per cent of respondents identified themselves as disabled (the UK average is 19% for working age adults).
  • While 67% of the industry is female, 44% of senior roles are occupied by men
  • There is an average gender pay gap of £5,202.

(Source: CIPR State of the Profession 2019)

People in PR often talk about the importance of diversity. They will say that to communicate effectively it is essential to understand the background and experiences of the audiences you are speaking to. So, why is it such a problem in reality?

diversity is an issue in construction too

For my day job, I specialise in PR and marketing for construction and property companies. Industry research reveals similar statistics to the above.

The built environment is facing a skills shortage; around 20% of people within the sector are likely to retire in the next decade. There is also a general perception that the image of construction is poor. A lack of diversity does not help and makes attracting new recruits difficult.   

This is not a new argument for either PR or construction. And while there are positive examples of change, the pace is slow.

TACKLING DIVERSITY REQUIRES LEADERSHIP

Change starts with leadership. This does not mean simply introducing new policies and procedures, or making a public pledge. It is about driving cultural change – which for larger companies can be difficult. Larger businesses often suffer from inertia. Change is slow and it takes time to see results.

The introspection that is required can be challenging too. Leaders must ask themselves whether there are behaviours within themselves, their business and their wider industry that make it difficult to attract and appeal to a diverse pool of people. This may mean recognising any privilege that they may have benefited from or calling out bad practices.

look at yourself too

It is not just leaders who are accountable. Everyone should have diversity front of mind, especially when it comes to their own behaviours.  For communicators to be successful, this self-awareness is essential. How does your own background influence your approach to your work?

In my early days of my career, I started working on the delivery of public consultations. We had to ensure that we developed a detailed understanding of the views and concerns of local communities. I learned quickly that I could not make assumptions – especially when it came to the delivery of messaging.

Was information accessible? Was the language easy to understand? Were we providing materials in the right formats and at the right times? Were we taking enough steps to ensure that we would be able to communicate with everyone fairly, from the most engaged within the community to the hardest to reach?

This also had to be balanced against time and budgetary constraints. But, nonetheless, it was only by asking these questions that we could hope to achieve a successful outcome.

There was not a single answer, or a one size fits all approach. It’s the same for tackling diversity. The challenge to us all, is to keep asking questions of ourselves.

A version of this post originally appeared as part of Sarah Pinch’s 12 Diverse Days of Christmas series, over on her blog. You can read the other contributions here.


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

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