Diversity is a hot topic. Hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite and #BritsSoWhite have forced conversations about the lack of diversity into the mainstream. From the echo chambers of social media all the way to the Houses of Parliament, everyone is talking about the absence of proper representation across different sectors. But does it mean anything? Or is it all just lip service?
Despite the PRCA highlighting the lack of diversity in PR, the industry is still struggling to diversify its workforce. In a candid interview, Karan Chadda, director of Evolving Influence shares his thoughts about why it’s important that the CIPR board represents the full spectrum of the UK’s public relations workforce; why we don’t need more conversations about diversity but substantive change, and why he believes that having more diversity at the top of the PR industry will help to not only attract more diverse junior-level applicants, but broaden the national conversation driven by PRs – making stories more accessible.
Why do you think the lack of diversity is such a big issue in PR? I think it’s a big issue for every industry. In the UK, where so many sectors talk about talent shortages, it seems daft that we need to make the case for greater diversity at all. If you only recruit from a small segment of society, you inevitably miss talented people. There is undoubtedly a shortage of talent but we should also be asking how much talent is hiding, overlooked or unseen?
You’ve also spoken out against the CIPR board for not having much diversity, why do you think that it is important for the CIPR board to represent the full spectrum of the UK’s public relations workforce? I noted it as unfortunate. Part of attracting a more diverse workforce is showing them what’s possible from a career in PR. You can tell people that it’s a great industry full of amazing opportunities, but if all they see is a monoculture at the top, your words will count for little.
What kind of conversations do we need to be having in 2017 about diversity in order to make progress?
I’m not sure that we need more conversation, rather we need more substantive change. I think many would agree that the industry is more fond of talking about things than changing them.
And to some extent that’s human nature. Change is hard and commercial priorities are never-ending, but at some point, you need to invest in change and that change should strengthen your business. The PRCA’s recent move on gender pay gap reporting as part of the Consultancy Management Standard (CMS) process is an excellent example of getting on with doing things.
Diversity has become quite a popular term, but do you think that most people have a real understanding of what it is and how it applies to the workforce? It’s popular to the point of cliché and that’s a problem. Banging on about it has little affect these days, so it’s important to focus efforts where substantive change can be made.
On the plus side, I don’t think there are many people in PR who think more diversity isn’t a good thing. Where there is a disconnect is where we have people talking about the benefits of diversity but few practical examples of how to change and achieve those benefits.
What does diversity mean to you? For me, it means finding the best people. That means recruiting from the biggest pool of talent and, equally importantly, recognising that talent isn’t about shared cultural experiences or how well spoken you are or what colour shoes you wear with a suit. In practical terms, that means changing assessment criteria and reaching out beyond existing networks.
Some PR agencies might say that it’s the job of Taylor Bennett Foundation and Creative Access to help young ethnic minority people to start their careers in the industry. What would be your response to this? Bluntly, it’s not the job of charities to subsidise agencies’ recruitment problems. However, they do an excellent job and I’d urge agencies to help fund them to ensure their vital work can continue and grow. We should also note that the PRCA run the industry’s apprenticeship scheme, which is an excellent initiative. Alongside that a number of agencies have, via the RPCA, committed to paying interns the living wage. These are actions of substance and they’re good for diversity in the industry.
What are some of the barriers that people of colour face once they enter the industry and how can this be addressed? There’s a lot of research that says the primary issue at a junior level is that the industry is not seen as a place for people like them. That comes in two parts, one of which is that PR isn’t seen as particularly diverse and the other part is that it isn’t seen as a prestigious career option.
You’ve been quoted as saying that there is a big difference between access and progression. Can you speak more on this? For me, you’ll only really see the diversity issue resolved once the top of the industry is less uniform. Most industries have little difficulty in recruiting a diverse group of people at the junior level, those advances will be short-lived if some of that cohort doesn’t grow into the top jobs. Diversity at the top signals that PR is a career to aspire to and that it is possible to get to the top.
Another entirely separate point, and this might sound a bit grand, is that PR helps create the national conversation. More diversity at the top will likely broaden that conversation and that can only be a good thing.
What needs to be done to attract more young people from ethnic minority backgrounds into the PR industry? I’m not sure about this one. I recommend speaking to Sarah Stimpson at Taylor Bennett who has excellent experience in this area.
What future trends do you think we will see in regards to diversity in PR in 2017? I’m not sure we’ll see any notable new trends. There are more and more new initiatives and many of them, like the living wage commitments, apprenticeships and reporting changes, will over time make a difference. Change never happens overnight but there is definite change afoot.