I personally feel growing up I have always been driven to accomplish the most out of my career, but have also had this voice in the back of my head saying, “Will there be a place for you?”
My response would always be,
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”.
I always thought it was my problem to deal with. Not the industry’s problem. Every time I scrolled through the “people” pages of companies I rarely found people of ethnic backgrounds. There was a seed planted in my head early on and it was beginning to grow.
Throughout my time at the Taylor Bennett Foundation, I have realised that although the lack of diversity is prominent within the industry, it is an issue which is being addressed and talked about. Andy Polansky, CEO of Weber Shandwick said,
“It’s one of the highest priorities we have in our business, because it’s [diversity] the right thing to do and it’s where we all need to be to properly counsel clients.”
But why then is there a lack of diversity. I think we need to consider three factors:
- Do ethnic minority communities know about a career in PR?
- Are companies embracing diversity?
- Are ethnic minority individuals putting the brakes on their own development?
Sarah Stimson, course director of the Taylor Bennett Foundation stated in her Guardian article how the industry is “broadly white and middle class”. A reason for this is due to the fact that awareness of PR as a profession amongst the ethnic minority communities is low. I totally agree because when I told my parents and grandparents about my chosen career path, they were baffled as to what it was. Particularly when within the Pakistani community, a great career path to go down is to be a doctor or a lawyer. So when I said I am going into communications, the response I always got was “well what is that?” In order to tackle this issue, we need to educate people on the vast opportunities and endless possibilities the communications industry provides. It can start with someone like me, telling close family and friends about PR to stimulate interest for/in the industry.
Another reason for the lack of diversity I feel is that sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. I am aware of situations where people I know do not even attempt to apply for jobs because they feel they won’t “fit in”. That is ridiculous! Individuals need to recognise that the different aspects of their identity are what companies want. Being from an ethnically diverse background should be seen as an advantage and not something that holds you back. You are more likely to be sensitive to cultural differences. As a communications professional, this skill is very important because you are dealing with companies that operate in different countries. You will be able to relate and tailor your messages to stakeholders within these countries which in turn will improve your relations. After all that is what PR is about!
I asked my university lecturer Elizabeth Bridgen her opinion on the issue and her response was, “… despite having the motivation, knowledge, and commitment to succeed at the highest level, some of these students have had to settle for sub graduate-level jobs and give up their dream of working in PR because they just weren’t getting the interviews, let alone the jobs … Employers need to understand the benefits of a diverse workforce and be bolder in their recruitment.”
It is sad to hear that this is the reality. On the other hand, there are people who are trying to make a change. Heather McGregor, Managing Director at Taylor Bennett founded the Taylor Bennett Foundation which is a 10 week intensive communications training programme. Her aim was to open doors for individuals by developing a connection between companies and BAME individuals in order to break down the barriers from both sides.
Last week the team and I went to the EBRD African Caribbean Network event where a panel of speakers, Angela Patel (Civil Service), Brett St Louis (Senior lecturer at Goldsmith University) and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (British journalist and author), talked about diversity. What was interesting for me to hear was Yasmin Alibhai-Brown state how she was consciously aware of being a “token” for her company to be the first Asian Muslim on the team. She didn’t mind as long as it meant she got the job! This is a sentiment shared by many as there is the impression of having the opportunity to work for an organisation and then proving your worth. I feel I would rather be picked based on my ability rather than on the basis of ticking a checklist to fulfil a diversity policy.
But then again I shouldn’t have a sceptical view because I have noticed a few PR companies, like the Taylor Bennett Foundation, who offer schemes which promote diversity. Fleishman Hillard offer the Alfred Fleishman Diversity Fellowships programme and Weber Shandwick “embrace diversity” as their Senior Vice President of Staffing and Diversity & Inclusion Judith Harrison is committed to “promoting diverse workforces.” These companies clearly recognise the benefits of encouraging diversity. Stuart Smith the global CEO of Ogilvy said,
“Diversity is important to me. The industry has a responsibility to address this but it’s not a quick fix. We have to take it seriously and it’s an urgent thing. It’s not just the right thing to do – It’s the right business decision to do it. We have to be able to represent the diversity of our clients and their consumers.”
I do believe progress is being made and I am excited to find out where it will lead me.