A Call to Action for a More Equitable Workplace

July-August 2020
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In conjunction with PRSA’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee, Strategies & Tactics asked Chapter Diversity & Inclusion chairs how communicators can help take action and advance equality within their organizations. Here is an edited transcript of their responses.

“I’ve never been a fan of diversity programs that relegate celebrations of culture to one month of the year, thus failing to create the sort of world where the inherent worth and dignity of all people is demonstrated. 

For your employees to feel cherished, your activities must be appropriate to your population. Honor organic expressions of culture and support different interpretations of language. Visual aesthetics should be planned by a diverse group charged with embracing one another’s points of view.”

– Stafford Wood
Baton Rouge Chapter

“Communicators must not be afraid to have hard conversations. Be the change you want to see. This can come from simply educating yourself about the issues, identifying how those issues are magnified within the workplace, and most important, listening to those around you as well as speaking up for those not heard.”

– TaQuinda Johnson
Detroit Chapter

“Communicators are often the conscience of the organization, and strong communications can help all employees move from inclusion to belonging.

Holding regular staff discussions, sharing resources, inviting representatives from key organizations [to speak], and communicating how diversity, inclusion and belonging tie to your company values are all things communicators can help make happen. 

When employees feel heard and seen in an organization, they contribute more fully, and they often express a loyalty to their organization.”

– Jennifer Dzwonar, APR, Fellow PRSA 
Hoosier Chapter

“As PR practitioners at this fraught moment in our nation’s history, we must serve as counselors who push our client partners, companies and organizations to have difficult conversations and ask hard questions. How many Black and brown people serve on your boards? How many people of color are in the C-suite? How racially and ethnically diverse are the agencies you hire? How can you transform your procurement and supply chain to be more diverse? Beyond issuing statements of solidarity, organizations must respond meaningfully to these challenges if transformation is to take place.”

– Kelley Chunn
Boston Chapter

“This is a very complex topic, which means there are multiple dimensions and solutions to consider. First, we need to ensure that, as practitioners, we have a seat at the table to affect these decisions within the organization. With this in mind, we have to address it comprehensively, and consistently. We must be champions for truth and encourage authentic organizational reflection and subsequent action by embracing restorative justice, adapting existing plans and campaigns, and cementing racial equality within the ‘criteria cornerstones’ of all future decisions and commerce.”

– LaShana Sorrell, MBA
Alabama Chapter

“Our role is to ask the tough questions and encourage honest conversations in a safe environment. That requires vulnerability and the ability to start with our own experiences when needed. Now more than ever, putting politics and political correctness aside is also necessary. This is personal and it involves all of us.”

– Juan Alanis
Houston Chapter

“As communicators, we have the power to create or change the narrative. However, it is also our responsibility to do, and not just to say.

Equality has to be achieved in a holistic approach. We cannot look at racial equality and ignore gender equality or LGBTQ equality, etc. We can start by changing our language and the style in which we communicate to become more inclusive.

We can also increase our actionability and accountability by working to amplify voices of Black, indigenous and other people of color within our organizations. Instead of just having a message from the CEO on racial injustice, have Black voices lead a discussion. 

Above all, use your voice and call out micro-aggressions or racism in the workplace. Use your privilege and step out of your comfort zone to be the best ally you can be.”

– Hallie Fuchs
Puget Sound Chapter

“As communicators, we use our voices daily. When it comes to racial inequality in our organizations, it’s often employees of color who speak out. However, we need allies who will also speak up. If you look around your organization and see there is a lack of diversity or you witness racial inequality, say something. There should be people of color at all levels and they should be in the room when decisions are made. 

Have cultural-competency trainings and conversations about race that result in leadership acting on the insights that are shared. All communicators have a responsibility to ensure that their organizations are not giving lip service, but are putting actions into place to implement meaningful and lasting change.”

– Jemia Kinsey Singleton
New Jersey Chapter

“It’s important for companies to have a culture where people feel safe to have hard conversations about racism. As communicators, you can advocate for ongoing, all-staff trainings that start with courageous conversations about race, ethnicity and bias. This will help to develop empathy and understanding of the full picture of systemic racism.  

Then, you can lead plans and processes that start with an equity-first lens. Ultimately, the most important things that you can do are to be aware when racism is happening, speak up when something doesn’t seem right and be responsible for doing something to change it. 

You won’t always get it right and, at times, it might feel confusing and frustrating. But with persistence and camaraderie, eventually equity will prevail.”

– Toiya Honoré
Dallas Chapter

“Tailor your communication style for your employees while keeping inclusivity and practicality in mind. Be intentional in building relationships with different types of people and expanding your network. 

Take on the responsibility of updating one-size-fits-all diversity policies and encourage senior leadership to take implicit-bias tests with you. If you openly demonstrate these actions and advocate for them, then people will follow.”

– Haniya Shariff
Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion, PRSSA

“Communicators are the voices of their companies. Use that voice to amplify the stories of people previously unheard, to call out injustices in the workplace, and to force companies to take hard looks at their practices. 

What are the races of the people in the room when crucial decisions are made? Does leader bias prevent a highly qualified Black person from being hired or promoted? Do company double standards treat people of color more harshly than white people? It’s time to transition diversity
messaging into intentional movement.”

– Lindsey M. McKee
Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter

“We’ve recently heard of companies acknowledging their lack of racial diversity, but many do not know where to begin. To achieve racial equality, communicators need to prioritize diversifying their recruitment efforts, starting from entry-level positions and promoting diverse voices to leadership roles. It seems like simple advice, but we continue to see tone-deaf and insensitive campaigns because of uninspired creative teams, despite research that shows diverse teams perform better.”

– Veronica Figueroa
Orlando Chapter

“When things are overwhelming, it can be tempting to throw our hands up and quit. It can be equally tempting to like a few tweets, post a pledge and get back to business as usual. What we need is action. Thankfully, action is something that every single one of us can take today, and the day after that, and the day after that.”

– Suzanne E. Boys, Ph.D.
Cincinnati Chapter

“Organizations, by law, cannot discriminate by gender, sex, ethnicity, color or creed. The ethics of the situation though, are more fraught — even if we adopt the golden rule of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ which is a transcultural, trans-historical ideal, regardless of specific religion. 

When we have diverse perspectives on our teams, and inclusive leadership and enlightened teammates, our service is better. And it’s simply the right thing to do — ethically, morally and responsibly.”

– Sean Williams
Northwest Ohio Chapter

“Communicators can advocate for racial equity inside their organizations by helping their leaders listen to the experiences of their staff, especially those who may have experienced racism and other systems of oppression. Every conversation matters as much as every actionable step taken to help create a healthy workplace for all employees, especially employees of color. 

It is critical to empower employees of color, and community members to participate throughout the process of developing policies and procedures that will impact them. 

Don’t be afraid to take a public stance against racism and injustice. When people know where you stand and what you stand for, they will stand with you.”

– Jaimee L. Fox, M.A., APR
Oregon Chapter 

“For communicators to advocate for more actionable steps on racial equality within their organizations, it’s important to first educate employees on the issues that come with racial inequalities. Providing more equipped training materials to employees on the importance of diversity and inclusion is the first step toward change and avoiding unconscious bias in the workplace. Mixing up teams to get different perspectives will also contribute to great work and leave room for more innovation.”

– Martin Tettey
New York Chapter

Learn More

PRSA recently released its updated Diversity & Inclusion Chapter Toolkit, which provides members with diversity-related research, materials, applicable tools and professional-development opportunities. The Toolkit has two objectives:

• To educate members by providing resources that help them manage the diversity and inclusion initiatives of their own Chapters, Districts and Sections

• To influence the composition of their professional development so the diversity of their membership reflects and embraces the diversity of the profession

You can find the Toolkit and more resources by visiting prsa.org/diversity.

photo credit: cienpies design

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photo credit: cienpies design

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