Every diversity and inclusion article, talk or thought piece from the PR sector begins in much the same way: ‘how can the PR industry be more inclusive?’.
There are three big problems with this.
The first is the innocuous use of the word ‘more’, which mistakenly implies that we are already inclusive. Yet, on the Friday morning at PRFest, the PRCA Next Gen panel, stat by stat, peeled the pretence away to reveal a pretty ugly truth; that we are not, despite how often we like to write and talk and bluster about diversity and inclusion, very inclusive at all.
The second problem relates to the one-way approach we take during the onboarding process. Inclusion focuses on bringing people in, perhaps asking them to change – even subtly – to fit in with our existing systems and structures. The responsibility for being included is placed onto the individual; we talk about mission, values and purpose with the expectation that new people will buy in to, accept and conform to an established system.
It’s lacking accountability
The third and final issue is that there’s a very big difference between calling for change and being willing to change ourselves to ensure change happens on a larger scale. Statements like ‘the PR industry must embrace diversity’ are amorphous – aimed at no one in particular and demanding no responsibility from any party, whether individual or group.
That’s why at PRFest in June I spoke to attendees on shifting our question and instead ask: who are we excluding and how we as individuals can change to effect sector-wide transformation.
Exclusion versus inclusion
This is a subtle adjustment, but it’s an important one. Exclusion is something we can all identify with – from being left out of a conversation, being picked last and grudgingly for a sports team, or left out of water cooler conversations in the office. In different ways and to different extremes, most of us have felt the isolation of exclusion.
Focusing on exclusion leads us to a different set of questions:
- Who are we excluding?
- How are we excluding them?
- In what way are our own behaviours perpetuating this?
There are many ways in which we are all excluding others – the most obvious to me as a deaf individual is ableism. The accessibility of our communications, our events, or lack of progress in flexible working has resulted in almost an entirely disability-free PR sector. In this instance, attempting to be inclusive without first asking and answering the above questions will result in ineffective policies and schemes and no real change.
Exclusion is your responsibility
To quote 13th Century poet, Rumi:
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
It’s not only directors, HR teams, or diversity champions/officers who need to be accountable. Understanding exclusionary behaviours is everyone’s responsibility. It’s not easy; it’s difficult to speak up in some organisations, and even harder to make change happen inside agencies or internal teams. But we cannot hide behind that forever. Neither can we continue to talk and write about D&I, without acknowledging what we, ourselves, are doing to contribute to creating a less exclusive PR sector.