PR Firms and the Executive Diversity Conundrum

July 16, 2020By Michael BartleyInsights

George Floyd’s death in police custody and the ensuing protests across the globe have prompted organisations across all sectors to reassess their commitment to inclusion and equality. As the PR industry examines itself, it doesn’t like what it sees. According to statistics from the PR and Communications Census 2019 the industry is overwhelmingly White and British (80% White British and 9% Other White). Therefore, White professionals make up 89% of the industry, a figure which has not changed since last year’s report.

Thankfully at C8 we buck the trend. As an organisation which is fully committed to supporting inclusion and diversity across all levels of the business, we sat down with two of our senior management team; Michael Bartley, Deputy Managing Director, who is of Black Caribbean descent and Imtiaz Mufti, Associate Director, who is of Asian heritage, to hear their thoughts on recent events and what the PR industry can do to foster a more ethnically diverse workforce.

Question 1 – What are your thoughts on the recent BLM movement and the impact it has had?

MB:

I’m heartened to see something so wholly and incredibly positive arise from such a tragic occurrence. The movement has clearly captured the public imagination and consciousness and permeated every part of society. I feel very bullish about the potential for real change and am keen to play as active a role as I possibly can.

IM:

The impact of the BLM movement and the marches that are happening around the world is simply expressing solidarity and outrage that the richest and most powerful countries in the world should continue to treat people in such a backdated way. Demonstrators are opposing the racial legacy it embodies, and the sad militarised police response to protests. A positive impact is the companies coming out and rightfully lending their support to the movement, but diversity cannot just be the flavour of the month. It must be a lasting working practice that we look to undertake daily in our personal and professional lives.

Question 2 – How did you get involved in PR and why do you think the industry continues to struggle to attract BAME talent?

MB:

Although I undertook a Communications-focused degree at university in the early 2000s, my career path into PR was far from linear. I found myself working in an asset management company for 11 years before I held my first PR agency position and, to be honest, I think that time working in a business in a different sector enabled me to acquire a set of skills that have served me well in PR.

As to why the industry continues to be a non-BAME environment there are several reasons. The pipeline starts in college and if young students peruse the websites of major agencies and see faces that don’t look like theirs, they are likely to choose different career routes. Likewise, cultural and family values play a major role. I know with regard to my friends of African parentage they are always steered towards STEM subjects, so there are definitely a number of things at play here.

IM:

My career in PR started purely by chance as I took a junior role at a high-end lifestyle brand in 2003. Back then, I was the only BAME member of the team. Whilst I saw no issue in this, the lack of progression when it comes to BAME PR professionals 20 years on is worrying. Generally, I still believe there is a lack of knowledge around PR as a career choice and a lot of my parents’ generation struggle to understand what the role entails compared to a career in medicine, business or science.

Question 3 – What can the PR industry do to make it appealing to the BAME community?

MB:

I think the industry has to be proactive in its approach to addressing this issue. Agencies need to work in tandem with educational facilities to ensure that BAME talent knows these jobs are out there and knows that there are people just like them already working within the industry. This is a fun, fast paced and creative environment so we just need to shout about it loud enough that great BAME talent hears.

IM:

The PR industry is its own worst enemy. Whilst the topic of diversity gets discussed regularly by comms people, the industry must do more to make a career in PR more appealing to the BAME community. The number of successful BAME professionals in high level positions is minimal and those that have reached the top are not celebrated enough. PR leaders also have to care about these issues, diversity conferences/events should be an obligation to attend for ALL team members and these leaders need to highlight the steps that are taken to address issues.

Question 4 – C8 is an ethnically diverse workplace – what do you do to encourage this and what tips do you have for other agencies?

MB:

We have an incredibly diverse management/talent-acquisition team and as a result it enables us to mitigate any unconscious bias attributed to the interview process. But taking it even one step further, when looking for suitable candidates we look outside the box and don’t only interview candidates with a media or communications background, we look for some of the soft skills that we know make great PR executives.
My top tip for other agencies would be to follow our practice of ensuring that a degree in comms isn’t the be all and end all of talent acquisition. During your due diligence ensure that you cast the net wider and I have no doubt you will unearth some real gems that will add value to your business.

IM:

Hiring should always be based on merit with special care taken to ensure these steps are free from biases related to a candidate’s age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and other personal characteristics that are unrelated to their job performance. The benefit of a diverse workforce and employee engagement is pretty simple: when employees feel included, they are more engaged and that equals high performance and better results.