I run a small PR business. There are 10 of us and we’re a very diverse bunch – ethnically, culturally and demographically. So I was shocked to see that the PR industry as a whole doesn’t mirror our happy little band. One industry association reported last year that ethnic diversity across the PR profession remains extremely limited, whilst the latest Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) report on diversity, published Spring 2016, identified 91 per cent of those surveyed as “white British” or “other white”, while only three per cent identified as “Asian” and two per cent as “black”. So why doesn’t the PR industry represent the wider population and as business leaders, and what can we do to foster a greater mix of employees in our companies?
The PR industry mostly consists of small businesses. The average agency has 11-25 employees and in-house teams are usually 2-5. Far from “passing the buck” to industry associations or government ministers, I believe that every PR agency leader and manager – irrespective of headcount – should play their part in improving diversity, starting with the hiring process.
As a small business, hiring is a chore. Most PR agencies want to “get it done” as quickly and economically as possible. It’s much easier to revert to recruiters, industry magazines and websites or trusted referral channels but in doing so, agencies are already excluding those people who aren’t in the system. By using alternative channels and opening up their search, they are actively casting the opportunity net wider. We hire a lot through social media platforms because we believe they are open to absolutely everyone who is searching.
Watch out for affinity bias
In my opinion, small businesses and particularly sectors like PR also suffer from affinity bias (if someone is like you, you feel as if you have a stronger connection). PR is a sales-driven profession and therefore hiring someone from a similar company or with a set of similar skills feels more comfortable. This perpetuates similarity and can subconsciously reinforce exclusion. However, skills can come from a variety of backgrounds. Just by starting with a more open mind to difference can have an enormously beneficial impact on the future workforce.
A long term approach
We have a wealth of talent and some really incredible young people coming out of schools and colleges, yet they cannot find work. That’s why I am saddened to hear of the potential clampdown on internships. When run properly and fairly, this gives young people the opportunity to start a career in their chosen profession. For small business, internships offer the flexibility to be able to recruit from the first job talent pool. At entry level, the focus is on spotting talent not defined by the skills, experience or education that may exclude certain groups. It naturally creates diversity. In fact, this is vital to long-term diversity in the media industry as a whole.
We have been running an intern programme since 2009 and it has been a joy from start to finish. We have found and hired outstanding talent, nurturing and developing from within. 60% of our interns over the years have been from non-white backgrounds. Having a long term approach now means that the agency profile is diverse and that talent has gone on to become Managers, Directors and there’s even one Tech COO. I am proud that Cherish has been a part of a successful career path for each of them.
Behaviour before policies
There’s great saying: Watch Your Thoughts, They Become Words; Watch Your Words, They Become Actions and it’s true. In business, people can feel excluded just because they feel different or outside of a group. It’s fine to create great policy documents on diversity but if people are literally paying lip service then they are useless.
The great thing about a small business is that it can affect behavioural changes within the organisation quickly. Creating inclusion goals that are adopted as a team and are then celebrated and rewarded can quickly mean that they naturally become part of the status quo. It may not be perfect because humans aren’t perfect, but over time, awareness and behaviour will go a long way to changing inclusion as well as diversity in our industry.
 Chartered Institute of Public Relations
Rebecca Oatley, Managing Director and Owner at Cherish PR