Work, Insights, OpinionPOSTED March 15, 2021

Let’s get moving on the journey to true inclusion

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Colorful figures as a concept of diversity.

I had the opportunity to share the stage at last week’s CPRS Toronto panel discussion on Inclusion in Canadian PR firms. The discussion was moderated by CPRS Toronto’s Inclusion & Equity Chair, Gail Strachan and also featured Rob Ireland, SVP at H+K Strategies.

The conversation was raw and honest, because, quite frankly, it needs to be. There’s a lot of really insightful and sobering data out there about the challenges faced by underrepresented communities in the workplace. We need to move into the action phase of change, stat. Not just for our industry, but as communicators, to wield our influence more widely in society.

Everyone on the panel agreed this is a topic that we could have talked about for hours. Here are some of the insights that have been at the core of my post-event discussions with people who attended the event:

Overhauling systemic racism needs systemic change. Committing to inclusion = committing to change across your organization.

DEI isn’t just about hiring differently. It’s about changing the way we conduct meetings, run social events, recognize and reward colleagues, build teams and seek feedback.

Yes, change is scary, but we’ve navigated a global pandemic, so…you’ve got this.

Focus on transferrable skills. When it comes to hiring new talent, we need to break away from the rush to get someone up to speed immediately. Yes, the need to fill a team gap can feel urgent. But that lens can limit your talent streams.

Don’t write job descriptions that look like a wish list for Santa.

Before recruiting is underway, be realistic about what the role really entails. Boil it down to the core skill set. If you need a strong writer, perhaps consider candidates with a journalism background and give them the time to adapt to agency dynamics.

Need someone to keep client projects on track during a busy time? Consider hiring someone with a project management certification, but make sure you’re sweating the details while onboarding them.  And then, most importantly, be open with your team about why you have hired someone, so you are actively managing expectations about the value that individual is going to bring.

Evaluate and manage people differently. Hiring someone with a different skillset than the traditional candidate for that role is a great first step. But if you don’t do the work to evolve the way this individual is evaluated as they move through the organization, you could alienate or lose the talent. As noted DEI strategist and consultant Lily Zheng says, “The point of changing representation is precisely to disrupt that dynamic, and create better outcomes.”

Resist the urge to fall back on traditional review and goal-setting processes with new hires. And most importantly, don’t put it on the new hire to fit in. That’s on you, the employer.

DEI should underscore operations. DEI commitments don’t just live on your website and in job descriptions. Inclusion should be at the heart of corporate culture, incorporated into marketing counsel and drive better ideation and two-way listening with the communities we target.

If we don’t make the effort to have our teams be representative of the world we live in today, we are doing our organizations a disservice.

DEI efforts are not for the minority groups alone. Well-intentioned organizations sometimes focus their DEI efforts on minority groups, but rarely address the status quo biases and behaviour of the majority groups. It cannot be the lot of marginalized groups to overhaul pervasive and discriminatory workplace policies.

DEI work isn’t about appealing to people’s conscience to treat marginalized groups better. A good DEI strategy necessarily has to involve everyone, especially those intentionally or unintentionally perpetuating biases and exclusionary practices in the workplace.

Has your organization articulated its DEI commitment to employees? Drop us a line if you want some help in getting this discussion off the ground.

Rohini Mukherji is a Vice President and the co-chair of APEX’s DEI taskforce.

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