Dawn Fallon has a seat at the table.
But for an Asian American who works in public relations, that wasn’t always the case. She remembers how former minority colleagues were treated in the workplace. Some were openly marginalized, discounted and demeaned.
The various status-quo cultures within agencies weren’t accepting.
“I was afraid to speak up and so were others,” said Fallon, who runs the health care practice now at Makovsky and serves as the co-chair of the DE&I Taskforce for IPREX, a global network of independent agencies. “If you spoke up, you feared you might lose your job or be judged.”
Her experience was shared by other attendees at the recent PRSA NJ Senior Pros “Shoot The Breeze” virtual roundtable that focused on what senior industry leaders can do to promote diversity and inclusion.
Here are five calls-to-action:
Support Employee Resource Groups
LaNella Hooper-Williams, who is president of Hooper Williams Communications, said she once accepted a job opportunity a few states from home because they went out of their way to make her feel like she belonged. The company had her spend time with senior minority leaders, who gave her an overview on the job opportunity, as well as the culture.
“It made it easier to consider the company since there were people in leadership positions that looked like me,” Hooper-Williams said. “Before the interview, I didn’t even know where Fort Wayne, Indiana, was located.”
As part of another employer’s investment in diversity and inclusion, the company established employee resource groups, which encouraged women and minorities to collaborate and make their voices heard. The employee resource groups are typically sponsored by a company executive and provided annual budgets to support meetings and an annual summit. The same concept can be implemented in smaller organizations with fewer resources and recouped in higher employee retention rates and lower talent acquisition costs.
Add Diverse Colleges To The List
Pam Golden, founder of GLA Communications, has noticed a change in sentiment regarding diversity and inclusion. She is concerned that the energy behind change is waning again after a peak this summer following George Floyd’s death at the hands of police and the social protests that ensured.
“It’s on the back burner,” said Golden, who assists with the successful PRSA NJ Senior Pros events. “As a country, we tend to react when there is a crisis.”
To seize what’s left of the momentum, Golden said companies should invest time and resources to engage with their employees and their customers, as well as source more diverse colleges and universities for talent. “It has to be a very deliberate plan.”
Jemia Kinsey Singleton
Jemia Kinsey Singleton, president and chief communications officer at Kinsey Communications, wholeheartedly agrees with companies including more academic institutions when it comes to filling job opportunities in the PR industry. “Historically Black Colleges and Universities should be part of the process – especially for those who feel they cannot find diverse talent,” she said.
She said several HBCUs have strong communications programs, such as Howard University, Florida A&M University and Clark Atlanta University to name a few. “I am from the South where there are many HBCUs. There are some but not as many in the Northeast so they may not be top of mind for some employers in this area when it comes to recruiting,” said Kinsey Singleton, who leads the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and is the PRSA NJ president-elect.
Don’t Overlook Vendors
As a communications trainer, Ken Scudder doesn’t often work with third-party vendors to consult with a client.
However, there was a time when he pursued a contract with the City of Philadelphia, which required at least 15% of the contract value going toward a woman- or minority-owned business.
So Scudder went out of his way to find a talented woman who specialized in video production. Although the duo didn’t land the contract, he said that relationship introduced him to a new perspective that led him to alter the way he conducts business for the better.
Scudder’s advice? “Seek out women-owned and minority-owned businesses as vendors. It made me change the way I do business. Too many people think of it as an obligation. I believe it’s an opportunity.”
Overcome Your Hiring Bias
Fallon recommends covering the names atop resumes for job applicants in an attempt to address possible bias from hiring managers.
But Fallon also said putting more minorities in senior, decision-making positions would encourage more inclusion and better retention. “Agencies now realize this is an issue, and it is more important than ever to attract minority talent,” she added. “If you give us a chance to contribute at all levels, the workplace will be that much better for our colleagues, our clients and society as a whole. It’s just that simple.”
Don’t Mistake Social Posts for Progress
Senior Pros Chair Ken Jacobs of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching cautioned PR professionals about believing their comments on social media channels makes them part of the solution when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
“We may think we’re going to change people’s minds by commenting on Facebook, but that’s never going to happen,” Jacobs said. “That feels like action, but it’s not. If we want to drive change around this critical issue, we all must do more. And we can start by doing something!”