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The truth gap, diversity and PR

CIPR has just published the latest State of the Profession survey results, which as ever make for fascinating reading. It was encouraging to see that for the first time ever public relations professionals were asked about the business case for diversity.  The thinking behind this approach is that if we as a profession can accept the business case for diversity and inclusion, we are more likely to actively look to becoming more diverse and inclusive.

Having taken a look at the results, it is reassuring for those of us who are campaigning for greater diversity and inclusion in PR to note that more than half of those people, who completed the survey, agree that our campaigns are more effective if they are delivered by teams that are socially (67%), culturally (64%), ethnically (51%), and gender (50%), diverse or proportionate.

A further 64% generally agreed that we need balanced teams, which reflect the audiences we are trying to influence. This is the heart of the business case argument and our clients are increasingly looking for us to evidence diversity in our organisations. Currently viewed by some as a “nice to have”, diversity and inclusion is likely to become a requirement in the future that we’ll have to meet. None of us want to lose out on business because we’re viewed as being ‘male, pale & stale’.

Despite the emerging consensus, it’s not time to pop PR’s much-loved champagne corks yet. If you take a closer look at the employment demographics in PR or the pay-gaps that exist at every level of seniority between men and women, we still have a long way to go. On average women at a senior level earn £12,390 less than their male counterparts for example, and there are only around 10% of people working in PR in the UK that are from an ethnically diverse background.

Those campaigning for each group need to think more broadly about inclusion. We don’t all fit into neat little boxes that can be ticked off as we ‘solve’ that particular ‘problem’. That approach leads us down the route of short-lived initiatives that don’t bring about lasting change. The PR Week female mentoring initiative is a good example. In theory this is a great initiative and thoroughly beneficial for those taking part, but wouldn’t it have been even more impactful if some of the mentors/role models had been something other than all ‘white’?

Diversity and inclusion is more than about race and gender. The attitude to disabled professionals in our industry still lags way behind other diversity groups; only as few as 33% of survey respondents could see the benefit of having disabled people in their team working on a campaign. This is quite surprising given there are 11 million disabled people in the UK – around a fifth of the population or your potential audience.

We need to educate our industry on disability, not every disabled person is blind or in a wheelchair, in fact, a large proportion of disabilities or health conditions are non-visible.  Mental health conditions affect 1 in 4 adults each year; our work hard, play hard culture might even be exacerbating the problem. Most people acquire their disability during their working life; we need to ask ourselves whether our workplaces create an environment in which everyone can thrive.

Whichever way you look at the figures we are faced with a truth gap – perception and reality. The perception: If you were to ask a colleague whether it was ok to directly or indirectly discriminate against someone because they are gay, a woman, a Muslim or they have a disability or long-term health condition they would find it very hard to say yes. The reality: 79% of PR professionals are White-British, the average pay gap between men & women is over £12K, 61% of men make up board-level PR representation in the public sector and we don’t know how many disabled people are working in our industry, yet they make up a fifth of our target audience.

Our campaigns would be better if they were created and delivered by teams that better reflect the audience they are trying to influence. We need to take urgent action to address our truth gap and take collective action to change our industry for those working in it and our clients.  Diversity is right for business, right for creativity and right for talent. In an industry as diverse in disciplines as PR the opportunities for diversity of talent are there, we need to make them a reality.