Get diversity right and inclusion will follow?

Like Ant and Dec for so many years, diversity and inclusion are rarely seen or written about without the other

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a diversity initiative or policy is enough to create inclusive workspaces.

I was recently invited to be part of a panel on a discussion about role models in PR at an event in Birmingham and one of my fellow panelists spoke about diversity and inclusion being a cultural shift, not an HR issue.

I think he’s right, and in fact, I’d go as far to say it’s an ethical issue for the PR sector; exclusion due to a particular characteristic of a person is morally wrong. It’s also wrong to assume that your diversity policies and efforts will automatically lead to an inclusive environment for all team members.

Understanding the reality of inclusion

To embrace inclusion and transform our agencies and teams into a utopian dream of equality we first need to understand that inclusion means and requires different things to and for different people. For me, being deaf has a mix of advantages and disadvantages in an office or work environment – it presents challenges around conversing with colleagues, social outings, and concentrating on work. For inclusion to become a reality in our agencies and teams it’s the detail of the everyday that needs to be considered and talked about openly.

Accessibility is often confused with inclusivity, but giving a person with a disability physical access to a space is radically different from making them feel wanted, welcome and equal in that space. Simply having someone from a minority background doesn’t make you an inclusive agency, working with that person or persons to understand the working world from their viewpoint and replacing practices and processes that are in conflict with that view is how we build workplaces that embrace everyone.

Shifting from effort to effortless

Our approach to both accessibility and inclusiveness – particularly on the disability front – is one of effort – having to take extra steps, go above and beyond at additional expense or great trouble. We are still firmly in the camp of ‘do we need to?’ when it comes to our efforts at inclusion. Take, as an example, podcasting. It’s the trend of the moment that a lot of people are taking up but few are providing transcripts because transcribing costs money and/or time to do.

Most podcasts aren’t money makers so the cost of transcribing comes from the author’s own pocket and free time. It is, let’s be honest, treated as a bit of a burden, something we know we should probably do, but, well, is a bit of a pain. But take a moment to consider the message that sends to someone who would rely on that transcript to enjoy the content the same way you do. The way we think about it, the words we use to describe making the effort to be inclusive are negative and resistant; burden, annoyance, faff, pain, hassle.

It makes our default approach to inclusiveness pessimistic and cynical and diverse faces alone will not change the way we think, nor the actions we take.

Inclusiveness is a long game

Changing minds and influencing others may be the fundamental tenets of PR, but we’re all too aware that it’s not a mindset we adopt as a whole industry. Our slowness to adapt is clearly showing in other areas like AI and automation, but it’s also a hindrance in moving the diversity and inclusion needle further on. Both diversity and inclusion require unpicking many years of systematic behaviours and a radical shift in how we think about employees, our teams and our workplaces. It will never be a tick box exercise, instead it will require continual evolution of thought and action, of listening, responding and adapting to realise the power of inclusivity in PR.

Come along to PRFest, where we will be talking about getting inclusion right….. Book your tickets here.

Guest blog by PRFest speaker @saralhawthorn