PR Legend: Lou Capozzi


This post is part of The Plank Center’s Legacies from Legends in PR Series that was begun in recognition of the 40th Anniversary of the Public Relations Student Society of America in 2007.

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Louis Capozzi is the former chair of the MSL Group and Chief Communications Officer of Aetna. He now teaches at the University of Oregon, and holds a bachelor’s in journalism and an MBA in finance. Lou is past chair of the PR Council, the PRSA Foundation, and the International Communications Consultants Organization (ICCO).

As the former chair of the PRSA Foundation’s diversity program, and recipient of the “Paladin Award” for championing diversity, I’d like to share my observations about the value of building a diverse organization and the ways to get there.

The makeup of the American workforce has changed dramatically and will continue to evolve in the coming years. By 2050 “white” becomes the minority ethnicity, as populations of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans continue to rise steadily. Our workforce is also shifting younger and more balanced, with millennials becoming the largest generation in the workforce and representation of women and men about even.

That’s great news. It’s well documented that diversity contributes greatly to business success – especially in public relations. Research shows it enriches our perspective, improves our organizational culture, and improves business results.

But these changes also pose a real challenge — how do we create a work environment that welcomes everyone?

A few years ago, the PRSA Foundation commissioned a study by CCNY examining factors affecting the success of under-represented groups in public relations. Employees in the study reported a number of issues they faced. Importantly, they often experience micro-aggressions in the workplace, defined as brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.

We’ve all had trivial experiences with micro-aggression, like when a waiter comes up to a table of men and women and asks, “what can I get you guys.” But when the comments turn to racial or ethnic slights in the workplace, they become a much greater problem.  They say, subtly or not, “you’re different and not welcomed here.”

So how can we all work to create a more welcoming environment in our communications workplaces?

Begin by creating the right climate – a welcoming organizational culture. Celebrate success and take pride in the work of everyone at every level. Empower employees to take smart risks and emphasize teamwork.

Embrace the changes taking place. Recognize that diversity is strength and celebrate it. Focus on retention at all levels, and make sure new employees connect with mentors that can help them navigate your culture. Help employees find meaning in work by sharing knowledge and offering diverse assignments.

Finally, use the power of empathy to help guide your interactions with all employees. See the world through their eyes, be non-judgmental and pay attention to their needs and feelings. Ensure the climate you’re creating wrenches out even the smallest signals that some people are different, or not as good as others.

A diverse workforce operating in an inclusive environment drives innovation, is a critical component of being successful on a global scale and a necessity for our ability to attract and retain top talent.

By building a welcoming culture within our organizations and ensuring all employees are supported and are given the tools to succeed on an even playing field, our profession can continue to grow and succeed.

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Published: March 4, 2018