20 January 2021

Why the diversity conversation must not fade: moving the needle in 2021

Despite the recent, hugely heightened awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement across the globe, the issue of diversity within the comms industry was not new news.

So, as the Instagram gestures and mass protests die down – how do we make sure positive change continues to progress ‘behind closed doors’ – not just when the world is watching?

My perspective:

When I first started working in the comms industry, I’d often attend galas and red-carpet events and could very well be the only black person in a room of more than 500 people. I’ll admit, I became quite accustomed to this, but of course it crossed my mind, and still does exactly as to why.

Are minorities not seeking out positions in the industry? Or is the industry not opening its doors to those from minority backgrounds and giving us a level playing field?

In 2020 we saw a pivotal shift towards including more ethnic minority groups – namely those from black backgrounds – into brand executions and team structures. Whilst this is something I hope to see continue across minority groups as a whole, what’s certain is that moving the needle needs to be a deliberate, continued effort by those in positions of power.

Change can only really start from the top, but what’s more, beyond diversity, it simply makes good business sense. Without fully inclusive teams, world-class, society-pervading ideas cannot truly be realised.

Here are four key areas I believe businesses must continuously consider and address on a quarterly basis.

1. Start from the top down – is your senior team representative?

For a business to truly promote diversity, we must regularly evaluate those who make up the senior team. If those making the top-level decisions are not a true reflection of a diverse team, with diversified views, it seems impossible to achieve real change.

When looking at a new role in the past, I have often visited a company website to gauge what the senior team is like. If I notice there is very little diversity in the team, this can be a deterrent, often making me uneasy about my decision to move forward with a company.   

2. Advocate workshops, mentorship and diversity programmes as part of your business strategy

As much as starting from the top-down is crucial, a lot of value should be placed on hiring a junior taskforce. Early-stage workshop, mentorship and diversity programs are a great way to open the industry to would-be comms professionals. I myself attended a series of workshops and internships which were targeted at students from minority backgrounds. Without this opportunity, I’m not sure comms is something I would have considered.

Programs like this have been successful. A mid-sized agency I worked for has been partnering with the Taylor Bennett Foundation for years – a charity which exists to encourage black, Asian and minority ethnic groups to pursue a career in PR and communications – and to date, its team makes up one of the most diverse workforces I’ve seen in any agency.

Similarly, Boldspace will soon be launching an initiative to reshape work experience programs for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

3. Acknowledge diversity within the business (or the lack of) and communicate this effectively.

Effective communication is a key part of promoting and maintaining diversity. There are huge benefits from management efficiently communicating its commitment towards improving diversity by informing employees on what is being done and demonstrating how the business will work towards change.

Aside from this being a great way to garner support from employees, it’s crucial in creating transparency amongst those already working in the business and shows that a business is taking responsibility for much needed change.   

4. Be authentic in your communications

A brand’s display of authentic communications is key in engaging audiences effectively. Making sure your message is impactful, yet conscious and considered, is key. For this to be a reality, the teams driving the communications simply must be diverse themselves. Consumers are human, and messages they receive need to feel human and relatable.

Why change continues to be important.

We live in a society made up of a vast number of people from diverse backgrounds. Businesses should and must be reflective of this, not only because it is morally right but because without a diverse team our comms efforts are sure to fall short.

Creative campaigns, ideas and brand messages cannot truly reach all intended audiences if those creating the narratives are not genuinely reflective of the audiences they are trying to reach.

This must not be a conversation we have in years to come.

Gradual, continued change is needed – change that does not need forcing through or manifests itself simply as public displays on social channels. It must not come in ‘waves’ or ‘trends’ or ‘spikes’. Instead this behavioural change must become ingrained as the accepted standard of business structure and strategy, today.

2021 needs to make big strides towards this, and it’s up to us.