Diversity and inclusion is an important topic across many industries, especially public relations. How can you or your organization support a stronger public relations profession? As a PR leader, you “set the tone for diversity and inclusion.” It’s up to you and your organization to be “involved, accountable, and focused on creating an inclusive culture.”
From examining previous research to understanding how top organizations are moving the needle on diversity and inclusion, world-class experts will equip you with key takeaways that can be implemented today to serve tomorrow’s public relations leaders.
The webinar featured experts who discussed their diversity and inclusion research, observations, and experience. The experts are Keith Burton, Grayson Emmett Partners; Andrew Cook, PRSSA National Committee 2016-2018; Pat Ford, University of Florida and formerly Burson-Marsteller; and Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Access: Slide Presentation
Keith Burton: So I want to thank all of you who’ve joined us this afternoon for this hour-long event, this webinar in promoting diversity and inclusion excellence. Again, my name is Keith Burton, and I am one of the trustees of The Plank Center. I also chair the program committee, which is responsible for the work that we do in diversity and inclusion. I’m the chair-elect of The Plank Center. On behalf of Ron Culp, our current chair, as well as Dr. Karla Gower and all of our trustees including Pat Ford and Nilanjana Bardhan, who you’ll meet in just a minute. We’re very pleased to have this event underway and be able to have a conversation with you today about this very important topic.
Our presenters today will include some great folks, including Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan, who is a professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Pat Ford, a very good friend and long-time leader in the field of public relations on the agency side. Pat serves as the worldwide vice-chair and chief operating officer of Burson-Marsteller. And our colleague Andrew Cook, who helped actually to provide the inspiration for this webinar in his work as VP of advocacy for The Public Relations Student Society of America. Andrew is at Brigham Young University.
I want to say to you that this event really has been designed not only for the students of PRSSA, but also for educators and professionals, and frankly for our profession overall. It’s a very important topic and we’re pleased to come to you to have this conversation. With that, I’ll turn it over to Andrew if he’s with us. If not, I’ll pick it up and then he can join us in progress.
Jessika White: Andrew is still trying to get in. We’ve got technical issues. If you could perhaps continue on and he will join us shortly.
Keith Burton: I’d be happy to do it, and we’ll just have Andrew join us along the way. Towards 2020 is really a look at the future and those of you who are students as well as others know that we’re moving through a very important time in our profession over the next several years. As students, you’ll be entering the profession and will really carry the standard for us forward in the area of diversity and inclusion. The Plank Center, from my perspective, has been a very important resource and will continue to be for students, for educators, and professionals. Andrew and many others were part of PRSSA’s 2016 diversity month that occurred in August, and I know there were some great events that he and others were a part of in conjunction with that month, as well as participating in the most recent PRSSA national conference that was held in conjunction with the PRSA national conference in Indianapolis. I know that diversity and inclusion was a very important topic there for all who were in attendance.
We’re working in an ever-changing global multicultural world. You know that as students and certainly we on the educator as well as the professional front experience that as well. That will not change. We will continue to address these issues as we move forward. Andrew mentioned and would talk about, if you were with us, practicing acquired diversity to drive new perspectives for the future. Not just simply what we know and have grown up with, but really what we should acquire in terms of a new mindset in how we see this very, very important area for our work. And that would include how we listen, engage, and share our perspectives and what we learn in terms of best in class practices with our peers and our colleagues as students, as well as others on the professional front.
Now, you’ll note that we have a Twitter hashtag of “prdiversity” that also is shared by Plank and others in PRSA, and I would encourage you as you are part of this conversation today to use this hashtag as you may use social media to communicate about what we are doing. I want to thank Andrew again, because he really has become such a strong advocate of this event that we’re doing today and I know will continue in our work together to be a part of the work we do around diversity and inclusion.
Jessika White: And Andrew is on now.
Keith Burton: Oh, Andrew! You want to pick up on anything–
Andrew Cook: Keith, can you hear me?
Keith Burton: Yes I can, please.
Andrew Cook: Okay. Great. Thank you. Sorry, I missed that part but we figured out the technical difficulty we had. I guess just to add my thoughts. Again, we’re really excited to be partnering with The Plank Center today. This is a great resource. It’s been great for me as I’ve worked with [inaudible 00:04:27] just to see all the resources that are available. And then probably as Keith mentioned, during diversity month this year and the national conference, there were plenty of conversations about diversity and inclusion in the field of public relations. I really don’t think there’s a more important time or there’s a more important topic that we could talk about. Again, just to emphasize, as you can see on the slide, we really want this experience today to be a chance for students and members of PRSSA to work on their ability to acquire diversity and to take those new perspectives and look beyond some of those inherent characteristics of who we are and look to move towards being a more open-minded and inclusive society, but also more open-minded and inclusive professionals.
Lastly, the panelists have prepared with you as students in mind today, so please take full advantage of this opportunity. As Keith mentioned, tweet and share and engage with the content we share with you today. Big thank you to The Plank Center. We’re excited for today’s discussion.
Keith Burton: Andrew, thank you for that. And again, thank you for your work with this panel and also your ongoing work that you’ll do on behalf of PRSSA with The Plank Center. We talked about the importance of driving diversity and inclusion in our profession and what I would first point you to are the lessons of Betsy Plank, who founded The Plank Center and also really is the first lady of the public relations profession as we all have known her. Really innovated and led in so many ways including in days long before we thought of the principles and the values that really are part of diversity and inclusion, Betsy Plank was at the forefront then in helping to underscore these values. Based on her example, we adopted several years ago under the program committee with the work of the D&I subcommittee and the D&I advisors that have joined us that I’ll talk about in a minute, our role as being a catalyst for driving diversity and inclusion in our profession.
There are many, many great organizations in public relations today that have really taken diversity and inclusion as an important aspect of their work. They include The Arthur Page Society, PRSA’s Foundation, The Institute for Public Relations, and others. We want to be a catalyst helping to support their efforts as well as to inspire others to lead in this area. So that is our mission and the work that we do.
The D&I subcommittee is comprised of a number of great trustees, two of whom you’ll hear from today, and others, as well as a group of D&I advisors who are external to the board of The Plank Center. They are professionals, they are educators who lead in this specific area and provide a point of view that helps to ground us around the definitions and the issues that are important for the field of diversity and education. I thank both the committee as well as those advisors for their work. Many of them will be with us at our Milestones in Mentoring dinner, which occurs here in Chicago next week
Why research, case studies, and best in class practices matter. I recently had a conversation with one of our colleagues at The Institute for Public Relations and we talked about the fact that we need research to ground us in the realities of this work. The research is the science beneath the art of communications. And that’s very true in diversity and inclusion, where we learn from the past as well as the present, as well as from trends that will direct our work in the future. Case studies and best in class practices help us to understand where great organizations are innovating and leading in the field, and where others frankly want to but simply haven’t been given the aspirational growth of the needs required to make this happen.
Working in a world where our differences bring strength. I think that’s an important aspect of our work here today when we think about diversity and inclusion. There are differences that we really emphasize that bring strength in our work and help us from a business perspective, from a community, and from a social and cultural perspective, to be even better than we are based on the work we do as teams. And we’ll talk today about what we need from you as future leaders. I think that’s an important concept. Not what you will hear us talk about, but what ideas you may bring to the table, and your questions, and your conversations with us now and in the future that will help us to be even better as we promote diversity and inclusion excellence in our field.
And with that, I’m very happy now to turn our presentation over to two great individuals. I’m going to begin by turning it first to Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan, who is the co-chair along with Pat Ford of our D&I subcommittee. Nilanjana?
Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan: Yes, thank you Keith. I am very glad to be a part of this conversation today, because this is such an important topic in our industry. I’m glad so many of our students have joined us today, so I wanted to say thank you and welcome to those students and colleagues who may have joined us today. I teach PR as well as intercultural communication at Southern Illinois University, and I have been the PRSSA faculty advisor for ten years in the recent past. So again, this is a topic that is very close to my heart and all of our hearts because we are here today doing this work and talking about this important issue.
So what I’m going to do in the next ten minutes or so is I’m going to talk a little bit about this term “diversity” and then about inclusion, because we’re talking about D&I today. At face value, you might look at these two terms and say, “Yes, simple words,” but they’re not. They’re pretty complicated words. So I just wanted to talk a little bit about that.
So first, diversity. What does diversity mean in relation to our industry? Well, diversity at an over-arching level means equal respect for and treatment of differences. And usually, in our country at least, when we think about diversity, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality are the primary identity categories that come to mind. However, diversity is not restricted to just these categories. Diversity also includes identity categories such as religion, such as different abilities, veteran status, nationality, social class. Our industry is a very global industry, so once we start stretching beyond the United States, diversity just takes on very complicated proportions. So really, at a very overall level, if they’re going to have a progressive understanding of what diversity means, we just have to be very open-minded in how we work with difference in our work.
So the research, and as Keith mentioned earlier, research is very important for us to understand how to move ahead. The research in this area in PR literature as well as the trade press coverage shows that so far, race, ethnicity, gender–these are the categories that we focused more on when it’s come to D&I efforts in the industry. Now there’s a growing interest in sexuality. However, I think it is important also to go beyond these categories and have a more open approach to what diversity means. Diversity, in addition, should not be seen as an add-on to what we do in our work. It is very important, especially for the next part, inclusion– It is very important for diversity to be something that is an organic part of the culture of the firm or the corporation because unless it is a part of the strategy, unless it is part of the philosophy of the organization, it’s not going to feel genuine and then we’ve really sort of lost our way there. So it should be very organic and not an add-on, and people should not feel that they are doing the work of diversity as a compulsion or as a compliance. It should come, really, as a genuine effort.
So because, really, if you care to look at the research on this topic shows companies that are diverse tend to be more innovative. They tend to have more of a creative edge. And overall, this is good news for business. In addition to the business case for diversity, it is also a social responsibility. We live in multicultural, diverse societies, and therefore it is really necessary that our profession should also reflect that diversity that we are overall a part of.
Now I’m going to move on to the next word in the D&I equation, and that is inclusivity. Inclusion, or inclusivity, is an equally important part of this, because diversity has to do with recruiting diverse people into our profession and into the industry, and recruiting more diverse students into PR education. However, unless the environment is welcoming, it’ll be hard to retain the people that we recruit. Therefore, the organizational culture, and when you’re students, your classroom environment, your PRSSA environment, your PR club environment, these need to be welcoming to people who identify as being part of minority groups. Research shows that microaggressions on a daily basis and pigeonholing, which means if somebody is of a Hispanic background they’ll only be dealing with Hispanic issues or Hispanic public, that’s sort of what pigeonholing means, that these sort of practices actually affect inclusion and people feel stereotyped. So we need to be avoiding those kids of actions as well.
So really, in order to be an inclusive organization, all voices need to be respected, heard, and incorporated with a genuine respect for difference. So diversity without inclusion… They both go hand-in-hand. You really can’t have one without the other. I really like this quote here that I have for you from the PR Coalition Report. The PR Coalition was a group of PR trade associations that came together about 10 years or so ago to talk about where our industry needs to be going in terms of diversity and inclusion. They said that point they published a report and in that they write, “diversity truly transcends the notion that it is just about color or gender, but of the mindset and the willingness to be open and to learn and to grow.” So we really need to be working with a very open-ended definition of what diversity is in our complicated world, which keeps getting more and more interconnected for our industry.
So the PR industry, as Pat Ford will be talking about a little later, has made some good progress in terms of diversity and inclusion, but the research shows that we need to keep doing this work because we haven’t done enough yet. We still face some challenges, especially in the firm setting, with diversity and inclusion.
So now I’m going to move on to talk about some of the trends, especially as these trends are based on the research that’s out there that I’m sharing with you today. The research that I’ve done on this topic shows that despite much talk in research about the importance of D&I, for about 25 years now, the numbers are still quite static, which means that in the last 20-25 years or so, the needle hasn’t moved too much. There’s still about approximately 10% of the profession is seen as being diverse. While there’s a general and increasing understanding that this is a very important topic–people get it, people in the PR industry get that we need to be doing more–there’s a little bit of uncertainty and confusion, I would say, about how exactly to move forward. I think one of the reasons for that is that there is a lack of reliable measurement methods for what constitutes diversity, how we measure it, and how we say we’re successful and so on.
Now according to a study that was a very recent study, a 2016 study that was co-sponsored by The Plank Center, 50% of firms and corporations have D&I executive leaders. Less than 50%, I’m sorry. And less than 50% have integrated diversity into their programs. So we need to move beyond that 50% and that should be an industry goal. While some improvement has occurred at entry and mid-level positions in the industry, the pipeline to senior leadership positions is still not very encouraging and more work needs to be done there.
I think we can move on to the next slide. Thank you. Another trend, a very dominant trend, is that white males constitute about 30% of the PR workforce and they dominate the senior positions in firms and corporations. So this is an imbalance we have right now that we need to be looking at. PR leadership tends to report that firms and companies are doing well in terms of D&I–now this is the leadership and their perception. However, minority employees do not seem to share that experience. So this is a discrepancy that needs to be discussed as well.
Finally… Well, actually, before finally, I have a couple more points. The millennial generation expects diversity. You all are part of that generation. You’re coming in to the PR workforce and your generation is the generation that has a very different approach to diversity than perhaps any other generation in the past before. Diversity in your generation is expected. It’s not something that is thought of as an option. So our field, our profession, will have to really work with your generation as you sort of flood into the workplace and this is another issue that we need to be talking about today.
There are several good examples and best in class examples of companies, especially, such as Coke, Xerox, IBM, and American Express, that have done a wonderful job with D&I. If we have time later and if this comes up in Q&A, I can address that. But for now, we’ll– And we need to learn from these examples.
If we can move on to the next slide over here… PR leaders need to be… What can we do about the situation? Well, PR leaders need to be passionate and visible and genuinely involved in D&I efforts. Major involvement is necessary on their part because they are role models for the rest of the organization. More diverse senior management is needed. Reliable metrics are needed to measure D&I outcomes. Resources must be devoted to priority D&I initiatives. Talk is not enough. We must put the money where, in terms of budget, where it’s required for D&I efforts, and we need greater accountability for D&I initiatives as well.
We can move on to the next slide. So what can you do about the situation while you’re students? Well, if you don’t have courses right now in your curriculum that address D&I issues, then you can request your instructors and your teachers to do that for you. Maybe they cannot add an extra course, but maybe they can incorporate case studies and class activities and videos, and things of that nature that will bring in the D&I component into your curriculum. You can take course– Be proactive. Take courses outside what you’re required in order to build yourself up as somebody who wants to be a leader and an advocate for D&I in the industry in the future. Work with your PRSSA chapters to identify and invite practitioners or guest speakers who are diverse and/or have been champions of diversity in the industry. Bring them in, learn from their insights and their views. Work with your local PRSA chapters, find mentors in those chapters who can be… Work with students in your group who identify as minority students so that they can mentor them to enter the industry, which is not very diverse right now.
And finally, I think this is the most important point when it comes to D&I: D&I is not just the responsibility of any one group. It is everybody’s responsibility. We are all in this together. We are all impacted by it. So whatever identity groups we might identify with, I think we should all really be concerned and eager to work on this issue. Thank you. I think with this we are going to move on to Pat.
Pat Ford: Yes. Thank you very much. Many thanks for Dr. Bardhan and for all the great research she and so many colleagues are doing in this vitally important topic. It’s important not only in our business. It’s a continuing issue in many businesses. I can tell you that we work a lot with our clients on not only the idea of diversity, but how that idea is evolving and how it gets applied in various parts of the world. So this is something we’re all thinking about and it’s part of a broader piece in what’s happening in society. This is related to conversations that are happening in every household, in every church, in every school, in every workplace, in every community center. This is what we’re seeing play out in front of us all over the world and so I’m really honored and delighted to be part of The Plank Center’s initiative in this area, and I’m delighted we’re doing this session today.
I’m going to talk a little bit about the implications for the marketplace, because I agree wholeheartedly with the conclusions and recommendations from Dr. Bardhan. Having really been focusing on this for at least 25 years, I’m sorry to say given where we are, we’ve all been talking about this for 25 years or more, but I also launched a major D&I initiative in our firm more than 10 years ago. Over the years, it’s really… We and other companies in this profession are getting a much more sophisticated idea of what diversity and inclusion really means. And by the way, and Dr. Bardhan alluded to this, that includes generational diversity. Because we also have to recognize and respect how different the perspective of your generation is from, say, old baby boomers like me. We do understand that, and I think this creates not only a need for action on our part but an opportunity for you.
So let me just talk about where we’ve been and where we are now, I think, and I’m going to talk about why I believe this. I think first of all, for many years, we had a state of denial in our business. People just said, “Well, we don’t have enough candidates. We don’t have a hostile workplace here.” It was just a lot of denial, and I can tell you that part of what we did was we went and got a consulting firm, a great consulting firm, that did training programs with our leadership teams basically to really help people understand about this whole concept of unconscious bias and really to understand what they don’t know and how much they don’t know. I’m happy to say we’re getting progress in that area, and I can tell you from being involved in some of these initiatives in many of the PR organizations. Not only Plank Center but The Institute for Public Relations, the Page Center, PRSA, PRSSA, PRSA Foundation, the Grant Foundation… There’s a strong and growing sense of commitment among the leaders of this business about effecting genuine change and sustainable change, and I’ll come back to that a little bit shortly.
We’ve got to basically talk, and I can tell you from many of my conversations with leaders who come from diverse backgrounds, they like a conversation like we’re having today, but somewhere in the conversation it always seems to come around to, “This is a good discussion but where’s the action? Where are the hires happening? Where are the changes happening in the workplace?” So we are pushing ourselves to have more of a bias for action. We see more of that. There’s still progress to be made there. And I think part of the progress has been for a long time, people thought addressing diversity and inclusion meant you had a really good intern recruitment program. By the way, there are many great recruitment programs and even within the broader intern programs that firms are doing, there are increases in the number of diverse candidates coming into those. I think in our firm, we have something like a 51% increase over the past couple years in the number of interns from diverse backgrounds.
So I think we’re doing more of that. I think we’re addressing more recruitment at every level, and we’re also addressing many of the aspects of retention and inclusion. As one firm, I think it was Weber Shandwick, referred to it as “beyond inclusion,” which is a good way to put it. We’ve also gone from basically a relatively primitive knowledge of what we’re really dealing with here to a much more sophisticated set of programs in terms of diversity training and orientation and basically just facilitating more discussion in the workplace on topics that matter to people from various backgrounds.
And then finally, we’ve gone from just being mainly about HR programs to… I hope that’s not too much background noise. There’s something in my office that just started going off here. We’ve gone from things being HR programs mainly, to really more in-depth things where we’ve got employee resource groups that many firms have, and they’re becoming more innovative as we go along here. We’ve got mentoring circles and reverse mentoring programs and a whole range of initiatives that go way beyond just superficial HR programs.
Next slide. A lot of my more positive feelings, I actually have more positive feeling now than I did a few months ago about the progress we’re making because I happen to have been on a judging panel for a major diversity award program this summer, which was called the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards. There’s good news and bad news in there. I think the good news is much more significant than the bad news. The good news is every program we saw, every program that was submitted was strong and there were strong metrics built in. We as a judging panel, we kept coming back to– I remember particularly I was so impressed with Rassan Harris, the president of the Emma Bowen Foundation, who was one of our judges, and others. Professor Hua Jiang from Syracuse University and others who kept pushing us and saying, “Is this just a clever idea in this initiative, or is it really moving the needle on action and the fundamental business?”
So we were looking at where firms were showing strong metrics. I think the firm that won for the best overall diversity initiative, which was Weber Shandwick, and the runner-up in that category which was Burson-Marsteller, a lot of what led to those conclusions were specific metrics about progress that had been made. There’s also a lot of really interesting innovative ideas from a lot of the firms. We were particularly smitten by an app that Ketchum has developed called LaunchPad. It’s not just that it’s an app that’s involved, again it’s part about recruiting fellowships for junior people coming out of school. But what was nice about it was it was specifically meant to address unconscious bias. You take these… you go on this app and you take a certain test and then you get scored according to how you came out on the overall scores of that test. So what they don’t build in before they grade you is what school you came from, what part of the country you came from, what’s your social status or whatever, so it’s really a way to get past the inevitable unconscious bias that happens. So we applauded Ketchum for that, and I think we’re going to see more firms developing that kind of thing.
We’re seeing also a genuine commitment by top management in these firms, CCOs and agency CEOs. We’ve got more sophisticated retention programs. We gave one of the big awards to Edelman, because they went beyond just having employee resource groups. They developed really interesting programs. The African American employee group was called Griot. Their LGBTQ group was called Equal. They’ve just now during Hispanic heritage month in the past month launched a new Hispanic one. And it’s firm-wide, it’s got great commitment from the company. They’ve not only given those individuals a voice by forum to exchange ideas; they’ve also facilitated them getting involved. Getting involved after Orlando. Getting involved after Dallas. Getting involved in just discussion. Here at Burson, we had a phenomenal discussion webinar internally about a week or two ago on race and policing. It was generated from a group of our mid-level and junior team members, and we were delighted that they did. I was proud to be part of that panel.
So a lot of good things going on there. The bad news is it’s not enough and it’s not soon enough. We would have loved to see about twice as many entries and we’ve just got to build more of a sense of urgency. The good news on the urgency front is the clients are demanding it. We’ve seen, and maybe you’ve seen in your own research, HP, General Mills, Verizon, putting specific metrics against… If you want to work with those companies at your agency, you’ve got to meet specific targets in levels of diversity at various levels, and they’re not easy ones, either. I can tell you that a lot of us on the agency side applaud that, because it’s only going to keep building that sense of urgency. We’re also seeing the PR leadership recognizing that they’re building this into their business case. It’s not just a nice to do thing. So that’s very important as well for a whole variety of reasons. For staff recruitment and retention, for being able to better serve our clients.
Finally, in a situation like this, there are opportunities for young professionals. Any time we’re undergoing the kind of fundamental change in a business that we’ve been undergoing for a number of years now and continuing to do, that creates opportunity. I think as Dr. Bardhan alluded to, there’s a great commitment by millennials for diversity and a really strong understanding of what that means. So you’re going to have lots of opportunities, I think, as you come in to this business.
Next slide. So key takeaways. I want to just assure you, from the senior levels of this business, we also don’t have tolerance for just talk. Because if you’re just talking about diversity and inclusion, it’s just a platitude. By the way, I’m quoting one of my colleagues in that panel we had a couple weeks ago. We want to get beyond platitudes. We want to have a bias for action. We want to applaud the clients increasing that urgency and feel that urgency all through our organizations. And I think it’s really a fertile time for innovative thinking at all levels. So as we move forward with this, more firms are developing programs around raising awareness about this and levels of respect around the various reverse mentoring and mentoring circles, and the various ways of helping people in every day life in their business to understand what we mean by unconscious bias. As one of my colleagues on that panel said a couple weeks ago, I spend 10 hours a day in this place and there’s some really significant things happening in society, and I want to be able to feel like we’re aware of that and we’re talking about it.
Well, we are, and we are. I think that’s a really great thing. As Dr. Bardhan referred to, I can’t emphasize it enough, we’re all in this together. So with that, let me turn it back over to Jessika for the Q&A section.
Jessika White: Thank you, Pat. First of all, I want to thank everyone for being here today for this great, insightful session. We have some great questions to answer, so let’s dive right on in. How can PRSSA chapters increase diversity if they cannot change their demographic? I’ll open that up to the panel.
Pat Ford: Well, you know… Dr. Bardhan if I could start.
Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan: Sure.
Pat Ford: You know, one of my rules of life is if you don’t like the answer, change the question. In other words, there are going to be certain things in every situation, including in your student body and the PRSSA chapters. There are certain things that are going to be beyond your control. So the question is not, “How do I control things that are beyond my control.” How do I make a difference within what’s there? I think one of the things is raising more awareness about the need for diversity in your campus itself, if that’s the situation. Many times, it’s really about raising awareness and educating parts of the community about diversity and inclusion. Whatever the specific makeup is in your part of the school, it’s an opportunity to do that and for you to take a leadership position.
Keith Burton: Can I just join in? This is Keith Burton. I’ll just join you on that, Pat, for a minute. Not only changing the question but looking outside of your campus for inspiration and ideas. As an example, this past week we had a gathering of the Black Public Relations Society of America and they had a wonderful two-day session talking about issues that relate to the black public relations profession and to our broader world. Those sessions are really open to everyone. I would also say to you that if you look on The Plank Center website, you’ll see that we have a group of diversity and inclusion advisors. A number of them will be with us at the Milestones in Mentoring dinner. These are men and women who are educators, who are professionals in our business, and who are very open and available as we all are to talk with you, to be available to come to your campus if that would be an interest on your part, and to help you to [inaudible 00:35:55] that topic of diversity and inclusion more inside what you do on campus. I think it’s very important to be able to do and I agree with that. Don’t simply be confined with what you see around you. Look into the larger world and make sure you bring this topic forward and into the arena where you’re doing your work.
Dr. Nilanjan Bardhan: I just wanted to–I’m sorry.
Andrew Cook: Go ahead, Dr. Bardhan. You go first.
Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan: Okay. Thanks, Andrew. I just wanted to jump in and say what I realized about this when I was PRSSA advisor for our chapter was that this point about… We have to work with what we have. And also, it’s the kind of work that we did was we looked at ourselves. If we have a progressive definition of diversity, which is very open-ended, we will always see that there is diversity within our chapter. We have to understand what that diversity is, what kind of differences are already present in our chapter, and then we have to see are there any opportunities on campus in order to increase that diversity. What we did, and we did this quite successfully, is that we had a lot of culture-based student organizations on campus. We would have PRSSA officers, executive board members and other PRSSA leaders go out and do presentations about our RSO and explain to those organizations who we are, what is the work we do, have good conversations with them about how public relations might be a profession or an area of study that they might be interested in. There are a lot of undeclared majors on campus at any given point in time, and we were quite successful actually in recruiting people to our program in that way.
So that was one other thing that we did that worked for us, and we do have, we’re lucky to have a more diverse than usual campus over here at SIU.
Keith Burton: Andrew [crosstalk 00:37:50]
Andrew Cook: Just to add a couple more… Just have a couple more thoughts. First, I’m glad that [inaudible 00:37:56] on campus [inaudible 00:37:57]. I know the PRSSA at Kent State, who won the Diversity Achievement Award last year, they had done a lot in that area. Another opportunity too for chapters is to do a high school outreach program, where students can organize their chapter and go and visit high schools, especially in areas where there might be greater areas of diversity, and encourage those students to come into the field of public relations. In addition to getting beyond recruiting more diverse membership, you’re also taking a chapter that maybe might not be the most racially diverse chapter, but through a high school outreach program, you’re providing your members with an experience that changes the way that they think about diversity and inclusion and really provides them with that acquired diversity as well.
Jessika White: Those are all great answers. So earlier, Nilanjana, you spoke about how diversity and inclusion is really everyone’s responsibility. One of the questions that we received was “How do you make sure that everyone’s voice is heard?”
Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. Well, I think this is a matter of organizational culture, and I think this is something I was talking with one of our exec board members about the other day in anticipation of this webinar. One of the things that we were talking about, which is really interesting, is we should think of PRSSA as an organization where we as future and already-burgeoning practitioners, we’re already doing the work of D&I. So how can we use PRSSA as a space where we are aware of the diversity that exists in that group, where we talk about the importance of including everybody’s voice, and where if issues arise, members feel that they are welcome to express those issues. Therefore, we have a public relations director who works with those kinds of issues within our PR directors on the exec board for our chapter. So it’s really about doing ground-up work and building a PRSSA culture where people feel, or members feel, of all backgrounds, feel safe to have their voices heard. And we just need to work hard at that kind of thing in a very conscious way.
Keith Burton: I just would add to that very good comment. I know Pat will weigh in on this as well. You mentioned employee resource groups earlier. I’ve done, through the years, a lot of work inside of great organizations, and Facebook comes to mind as an example. They had over 2,000 employee resource groups inside that organization, which was probably too many, but those employee resource groups provided a very important voice. Today I think in most organizations, and I hope this is true increasingly on college campuses, that at the grassroots level among students and certainly with educators, that the employee voice is being solicited. It’s the voice that we’re listening to as we think about how we can address issues like this. The same is really true in organizations where the content we build today is based on the employee voice. What does the audience need? If you use that as a concept, I think it will help you not only on the D&I front, but on so many other fronts.
Pat Ford: Keith, I would add another point, a couple of points. I think one of the ways to address that question is to approach it as a PR professional. So when we’re facing questions like that as a PR professional where it appears that some part of a company’s or organization’s stakeholder base is not being fully heard, part of what we do is we build some research into what we’re doing, whether it’s polling focus groups, however that plays out so that we’re doing some virtual listening to make sure we’re hearing all of that because it’s so important. We see, this is what I was alluding to earlier. It’s so important when we’re doing any kind of issue management, especially when it comes over into the crisis area, you almost can’t do too much research. It’s not just to see if people like this or not, or do they think it’s a good thing. It’s to see if people are hearing what you think you’re telling them. Is it having the effect you think it’s having? Part of what we’re finding out in these areas of unconscious bias and just in general the education we’re doing around diversity and inclusion, is that people see these things differently and they don’t necessarily hear it as well.
I think the other part of what we do as PR professionals is we facilitate discussion. We facilitate, we listen, we build in listening tools and models. So I think as you, because many of you on this webinar are leaders of your PRSSA chapters, so leaders lead and leaders facilitate that discussion. I can tell you when I lead a discussion in this firm, I’m going to just go out on a limb and say that any of my colleagues would tell you that voices around the room are heard because I make sure that they’re heard, and I think that’s what you should do.
Jessika White: There’s a lot of key takeaways today. One question brings to the point is what’s the first step students can take to truly move the needle on diversity and inclusion within their chapter as well as a student-run firm.
Pat Ford: So, can I start that?
Jessika White: Sure.
Pat Ford: So one thing is just building off what I just said. I think really start by defining where your situation is. The first step is really identifying how significant an issue you have there. Second, build in… Any time you’re doing a campaign to try to build understanding or build support, whether it’s a political campaign or a corporate campaign or a product campaign or an issue campaign like this, part of what that involves is building messages that are based on an emotional impact and that are personal to people. Number two, focus. Focus, because there’s a tendency sometimes when you’re addressing some of these issues, to build an entire mountain, or as somebody calls it, trying to boil the ocean. Focus in on what are the critical issues. Two or three critical issues that you can make a difference in. And then third, build in dialogue in which the members of your chapter are encouraged to turn off their devices for that conversation and really listen. Really listen. A very wise person I knew used to talk about the ministry of presence. Wherever you are, be there completely and listen, because that’s half the battle right there.
Andrew Cook: I have–
Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan: I think that one more–
Andrew Cook: Go ahead, and I’ll follow.
Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan: Okay. I just wanted to suggest one more thing that we’ve tried in the past as a PRSSA chapter, given we have so many student groups on campus. PRSSA chapters tend to hold socials on a regular basis, and one of the things about learning how to be a more diverse-minded person, whether we’re talking about acquired diversity or just being comfortable and interacting with people across differences, we have to be able to actually do that work rather than just talk about it, right? So what we do with our socials is invite other student groups, diverse groups, to do a combined social with us. And that way, you actually get to meet and interact with people who are from different backgrounds, and it gets a certain kind of interaction going. You don’t have to just restrain yourself within your PRSSA chapter. Move out of that chapter and see who else is on campus and who else can you interact with and learn from.
Pat Ford: Or other schools.
Dr. Bardhan: Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Pat Ford: Andrew [inaudible 00:46:11] at a high school, so that could be another college, right?
Keith Burton: And I would add that… Ron Culp is our chairman and I know he’s on the call today. Ron has worked very closely with others with the Midtown Boys’ Club here in Chicago to help begin the process at a much younger level on the high school front, to begin conditioning young leaders, diverse leaders, on the possibilities of the field of public relations. We’ve known for a long time that the earlier we can start building greater interest and commitment among others for D&I in our profession, I think the more growth we can have. So to Pat’s point, that’s very important to do.
I would also tell you that in addition to this research that you heard Dr. Bardhan talk about, there’s other great research out in the field, certainly research that’s available through The Institute for Public Relations recently done. Dr. Bardhan and Dr. Karla Gower are working and will be working on a new book in this area. Dr. Brenda Wrigley, who’s a D&I advisor for us is in the process now of finishing her research and will be preparing a book on LGBT issues. So we’ll have some great work available to us, but it has to go beyond even what we learn. It has to go into building casework and case studies. I would say to you, as Pat Ford said earlier, one of the things that we have to do as leaders is to see how we apply these learnings. So looking at examples from great companies, how did they practice in this area? If you have an opportunity to talk to the communication leaders of companies like McDonald’s and Microsoft and others about their work to learn what their issues are on the D&I front and how they’re tackling these issues. It’ll be very important to you. I know these leaders will be available to talk to you if you approach them.
Andrew Cook: If I could offer just one more thought, too. Last year at the national conference in Atlanta, the University of Oklahoma PRSSA chapter presented on a diversity campaign that they had had on their campus. The idea was that on campuses across the country, there’s usually a couple hot-button or hot issue topics and in their case, following a fraternity racism incident where it was something that received quite a bit of national attention, their PRSSA chapter had positioned itself as a thought leader on the issue of racial relations and they had ran a student campaign along with their student body to promote better relations between students on campus to kind of respond to that issue. So I think if chapters consider, “Okay, looking at my campus, what are maybe some of the diversity issues at my own campus spaces, and how can we be thought leaders? How can we influence other groups to be more inclusive and more open?” I think that can be a source when it comes to building a campaign and taking this knowledge that we’ve heard about today and applying it into action.
Pat Ford: And Andrew, I think that’s a key point. Even in what we’re doing there, this bias for action. It doesn’t have to be a formal thing. Sometimes it becomes daunting as people try to fit things into some kind of template. I can tell you of a specific example when I was visiting Grady College at The University of Georgia with Dr. Juan Meng. One of the things we wanted to do, since I had just come back from spending basically three years learning our Asia business. She pulled together about 25 or 30 Asian students and it was one of the most lively dialogues that we did based almost as an afterthought in the schedule I had there, but it was great because it was authentic, because we weren’t trying to fit it into some formal process. I can tell you that one of those students ended up interning with us in Shanghai this summer.
Keith Burton: Great. I know we’re nearing the end of our time. Do we have time for one more very quick question?
Jessika White: Yes. How significant is D&I among multinational companies and markets beyond the U.S.?
Keith Burton: That’s a Pat Ford question.
Pat Ford: Yes. And Dr. Bardhan referred to this in part, which is that basically it becomes a little more complicated a question outside the U.S., because in some countries, we’re still dealing with ethic and racial bias that’s either being addressed directly or not. But I think one of the things I can tell you from in Asia, first of all was gender and it’s something we’re dealing with all around the world. Much of our workforce are female, and not enough of our leaders. I’m happy to say our regional CEO in Asia is a woman. I think about a dozen of our market leaders are women. One of the other issues is you can go too far one way or another in having all local nationals versus expats. When you’re dealing with multinational companies, you need to build a diverse workplace so that they have the ability to address all of their stakeholders.
So I think partly it’s gender, partly it’s education level and trying to address where there might be disadvantages, especially in emerging countries. So it’s still very much a diversity and inclusion program, but it’s not quite the same as with the U.S.
Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan: Right. And I would add to that, since I’ve done quite a bit of work on international PR research in that area and there’s some other educators like Dr. Maureen Taylor, Kay [Shriarmesh? 00:52:04], who’s actually not in the U.S. anymore– and I’m missing out a lot of names, I know we’re running out of time–who’ve done really good work in trying to understand how PR works and what we should be thinking about when we move beyond the borders of the U.S. For example, different media systems have different cultures in different parts of the world, and since media relations is such an important part of what we do, it’s really critical that we understand whether the media is more government-controlled or more private. Issues such as, for instance, since my background, I’m from India and I actually worked there for two years before I came to the United States, issues in… It’s really important to get a grasp on what are the local issues, diversity-related issues, there are really hot-button issues or historically-important issues. For instance, on the Indian context it’s religion. So one has to be really careful about how one works around that issue and what we say and what we don’t say and so on.
So it’s really very, very… It’s about striking– That word that we use is “global,” striking a balance between what is global and what is local for your multinational firm in any given place.
Pat Ford: Right.
Keith Burton: Before we end, I just want to thank not only our presenters but also all of our participants, and just to remind this group that in the week ahead we will have our annual Milestones in Mentoring dinner. I’m certain that several of you have dialed in in the past from a remote location where you can view the awards ceremony that we have that evening. Again, check the website and you can see all of the coordinates for that. We would be delighted to have you. If you’re not going to physically be with us for the dinner, we would be delighted to have you with us from a remote location to view what will be, again, another great [sell-outs? 00:53:41] dinner. So I want to thank, in particular, Dr. Karla Gower and most importantly Jessika White, who coordinates all of our marketing and communications on behalf of The Plank Center and does an outstanding job.
Keith Burton: And with that, Jess, I’ll just turn it back to you.
Jessika White: Thank you, Keith. Thank you all for joining us, and thank you again to the panelists for taking the time to discuss such an important trending and hot topic within our industry. We will also have this available on demand on our website and of course we’ll be promoting it on our social media outlets, so with that I believe we’re adjourned. So thank you all so much.