Diversity and the Role of Public Relations

Jillian Fisher, Vice President & Head of PPR Worldwide’s Diversity Specialty Group

The diversity conversation continues to be front and center in the media, with attention on diversity inside tech companies, the gender gap in access to capital, equal pay, and race-related dialogues like #BlackLivesMatter. In an ongoing quest for parity, organizations everywhere see diversity as a business imperative and communications professionals have new opportunities to help be a part of much-needed change.

The media landscape on this topic of diversity has changed drastically over the past few years, leading to the launch of Fortune’s Broadsheet and raceAhead newsletters, and stand-alone beats at mainstream media outlets like TechCrunch, Inc., USA Today, CNET, Wired, Harvard Business Review and more. Additionally, several businesses and programs have launched efforts to address the paradigm shift of diversity in the workplace, including theBoardlist, Platform, Men Advocating For Real Change, Equal Pay Day, to name a few. World leaders like Marc Benioff and Tim Cook are also using their public platforms to fight for gay rights.

PPR Worldwide recently hosted a media panel “Diversity in the Newsroom and on the Front Page” with:


The discussion was moderated by journalist, Ramon Ray, and focused on the diversity trends that organization’s are facing today, how those trends are being highlighted in the media and what PR professionals can do to engage in the conversation given the sensitive nature of diversity topics.

Following are some key takeaways on the role that PR can play in communicating around diversity:

  1. Empower the conversation: Take a proactive approach in “owned” media platforms to share an organizations perspective on addressing diversity in the workplace.

“There is an incredible power in people sharing their first person stories on platforms like LinkedIn,” said Fairchild. “What doesn’t work is writing a post on how diverse your company is. What works is being forthcoming, talking about the struggles and achievements.”

  1. Be candid, truthful: We’re a long way to reaching parity, and trying to avoid the pitfalls that exist in an organization only masks the problem further. Check out Yahoo!’s head of diversity, sharing where they are, and where they are going.
  1. Widen the narrative: Ensure that PR sources offer a diverse perspective when working on stories about any topic.

“Media needs to do a better job at widening the narrative, the focus must be on people who’ve been marginalized,” said Wagner.

“What I’d like to see as an editor is the conversation moving forward,” said Fairchild. “We know there is a problem, we’ve started documenting the problem, but we need to stop asking the woman in business, what it’s like to be a woman in business. Our conversations should highlight the trailblazers because you can’t be what you can’t see.”

  1. Create best practices, programs: Move beyond issuing reports, and launch programs that help move diversity efforts forward. You can check out case studies of companies doing innovative things here.
  1. Be a part of the solution: You can’t be what you can’t see. Great diversity initiatives must start from the top down inside organizations and include performance metrics to back-up the business case to diversity.

“Ask your top executives if they’re part of the problem or part of the solution,” said Guglielmo. We’re looking for people who are being innovative and disruptive and putting their money where their mouth is, and PR can help to connect us to the right people,” said Guglielmo.

“Make sure your own agencies are also diverse, because that brings diversity of thought,” said Rodriguez.

Final thought: Consumers want to trust and do business with companies who understand them from different economic, political and cultural perspectives. PR has an opportunity to shape new programming and expand the conversation, all while illustrating represented organizations as employers of choice and industry innovators.


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