As a young foreign student, one of the first things Maria Temneanu was told was that taking a couple of elocution lessons will help her more than 3 years worth of undergraduate PR knowledge.
I know, right?
When it comes to diversity and employment, PR seems to be riddled with contradictions.
Agencies boast about hiring minorities, parade their foreign juniors around public events and write stirring manifestos on how diversity helps businesses thrive.
And yet, while the rhetoric is getting louder, the numbers are getting worse. Recent data from the UK suggests that the number of white, middle-class, English-speaking staff working in PR has actually increased to a whopping 90% this year.
This comes as a surprise since approx. 90% of the students in my PR course come from ethnically diverse backgrounds and have never picked up an accent book in their lives.
Which makes you wonder: if the promise that diversity in the workforce drives innovation and market growth is so true, why are employers so quick to dismantle all the things that make us different?
Why are we being rushed into elocution lessons and nudged into changing our own identity, just to keep things the same?
After talking about this at the office, my team shared a podcast which revealed that even though ethnically diverse groups perform better, they feel less happy at work. Unfamiliarity aches our subconscious so much that it affects our own sense of well-being.
Also, the time and effort it takes to integrate a foreigner sometimes interferes with a corporation’s immediate need of maximising profit. People impulsively choose quick fixes over long-term goals because the discipline required to change the systems our industries have in place feels overwhelming at best, impossible at worst.
We all want to change, become better versions of ourselves and triumph over our own prejudice – but the ticking clock and the looming deadline postpone our (very) good intentions.
In a society governed by unconscious bias, foreigners find themselves trapped between two axes of compliance: the ‘native’ axis, a spectrum for excelling at being ‘normal’, and the ‘talent’ axis, where our real aptitude resides.
As a foreigner, I cannot shield my arguments behind flowery language – so I have no choice but to make sure they’re always on point. I have learned to enjoy the unfamiliar and the unexpected because I had no other options. I am fighting the hard fight because there are no easy exits I can take.
There are a couple of features that successful foreigners I’ve met in London share, and Received Pronunciation is not high on that list. They’ve all realised there is no ideal ‘PR-ness’ to aspire to, and the only things that need sharpening are their other professional skills – because PR needs them.
Because, by definition, diversity means not complying to the ordinary – and this is what drives innovation and excellence forward.
It might be uncomfortable, but it’s a small price to pay to redefine normal – and the agencies that matter get that.
There’s much more to say about integration, and how we make it easier for both sides. I’m still struggling to find the best formula, so any tips would be much appreciated. Tell me how you’ve overcome this, as a native or a foreigner – and help me figure out how to dismantle those axes for good.
Maria is studying PR & Advertising at the University of Westminster and currently on internship with Augur Communications
Picture credit: Dan Gold