Diversity in PR in Scotland

Diversity in PR is a big topic. It’s not just about gender.

Two years ago, at #PRFest, I invited people to join a panel to discuss diversity in PR. I was disappointed with some of the conversation and I was also surprised by some comments from practitioners. At least it gave me a good picture of where we’re at with it.

The main thing about diversity is, if PR practitioners are to represent the audiences which they engage, either if they work in-house or an agency, how can they engage an audience they know nothing about and can’t connect with?

What are the issues with diversity in PR in Scotland?

One of things I identified throughout these discussions, is that there are few ethnic minority students studying PR, in Scotland. I’d be interested to know actually, what the demographics are for PR students in Scotland. Perhaps I only see female, white students from Scotland applying, because that’s the perception my own business gives because I’m a sole practitioner, white and female?

There is much work to be done for PR to attract different ‘communities’ into further and higher education prior to students going into work.

As Stuart Bruce rightly pointed out: “The Holmes Report research shows 81% of CCOs say their agencies must have ethnically diverse account teams”. It’s therefore not only the right thing to do, but clients are now demanding diversity.

Diversity in PR at #PRFest

This year at #PRFest, Taylor Bennett Foundation submitted a pitch to discuss the business case for diversity in PR. I was delighted to receive the pitch from its CEO Sarah Stimson, offering a panel demonstrating the very details of the issue we had to address. We had representation for gender, from the BAME community, LGBT and Taylor Bennett Foundation who work so hard to get diversity on the agenda of every PR business, team and organisation in the UK, in addition to its training and mentoring programme.

For an independent practitioner like me, it’s difficult to have a diverse team, as I don’t employ anyone,  but I am acutely aware of the responsibilities I have, to ensure any approaches to PR strategy with clients include diversity where possible.

How you can help diversity in PR

How you can help diversity in PRAt #PRFest, Ketchum’s Stephen Waddington led a hack and turned into a practical way to demonstrate influencer workflow, using giant post-its. Stephen asked for a live campaign or project we could use to hack and TBF’s Anne Groves was in attendance that day and suggested we use TBF’s 10th anniversary fundraising campaign for the session.

Since then, Stephen has backed the campaign and turned the work done at #PRFest into reality. PR practitioners and agencies across the UK have sponsored or donated to the campaign, including Aura, plus have committed to spreading the word, to help raise £50,000 by the end of the year. Read Sarah’s post on Influence.

So, I’d like to give you some practical ways that you can increase diversity in your organisation. These were previously posted on the #PRFest blog.

1 – Advertise more widely. I often hear the argument that PR firms would hire more young BAME people but they don’t apply for the roles. My answer to that is, ‘where do you advertise?’ Quite often, particularly for well known firms, they don’t advertise at all. They are then relying on people who actively seek out their website to apply for positions – and so will only attract people who a) already know they exist b) consider PR an attractive career choice and c) know enough about the industry to know how to apply. That’s all well and good, and I understand the arguments that they want people who are proactively seeking PR roles and show a level of interest in their firm in particular, but in that case they are dismissing all the young people who may not have any knowledge of PR but absolutely have the potential to succeed in the industry – if only they knew it was there and what it offers. We get around 100 applications from BAME graduates for every Taylor Bennett Foundation PR Traineeship programme. If you think more creatively about where you recruit from, it is possible to find more diverse talent.

2 – Scrutinise your recruitment processes. If you use recruiters, insist that they provide you with more diverse short lists of candidates. Employ university blind and name blind recruitment. This BBC1 Inside Out programme should be enough to convince you of the merits of that. 100 applications sent out by ‘Adam’ and ‘Mohammed’ with exactly the same CV.  Adam got offered three times as many interviews as Mohammed.  It makes you think, doesn’t it? Once at interview stage, have more than one person conduct the interview to help eliminate unconscious bias.

3 – Think about workplace inclusion. Once you have more diverse staff that’s great and I applaud your efforts to improve things but you won’t keep those staff if there isn’t a concerted effort to be an inclusive workplace. That includes visible support of diversity at senior levels, formal or informal networks for more diverse groups, policies that support employees work-life balance and cultural sensitivity, and a diversity and inclusion champion at operational level.

4 – Don’t reinvent the wheel. There are programmes out there that offer you the opportunity to help improve diversity in your firm and in the industry as a whole and there are easy ways to support them. I am of course going to plug the Taylor Bennett Foundation here but you should also look at Creative Access, #BAME2020 and The Media Trust too as all of those organisations have offerings which can help.

Thanks for reading. I’d like to ask you to consider donating from as little as £10 to help the Taylor Bennett Foundation reach its goal. Here’s the link to donate. I’d be grateful if you could take something away from this post and turn it into an action. Finally, if you could share this post that would be super – #powerofsharing.

Image courtesy of maxpixel

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Laura Sutherland

MD of Aura PR, CIPR Council member and former CIPR Board Director. Former Chair of CIPR Scotland. Fellow and Chartered PR practitioner.

Posted in Diversity, Editor's Picks, Public Relations

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