Our latest accessmatters session was with Taylor Bennett Foundation chief executive Melissa Lawrence, who joined us to share the important work the charity does to encourage more BAME people into the PR and communications industry as well as the challenges of continuing to train and mentor future PR practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The session started with some shocking statistics underlining just how vital the work of the Taylor Bennett Foundation is – in 2008 (the year of the charity’s launch), CIPR data found that 6.3% of the PR practitioner population were from a BAME background. In 2020, it’s 9% – still ‘woefully low,’ said Melissa, who pinpointed the many ways in which candidates are still held back from potential careers in comms.
‘It could be parental, peer or teacher pressure for young people to go into ‘professions’, like law, engineering, etc. They might not know anyone in the industry. They might not know the myriad of job roles in the profession; they may know about working with influencers, or corporate communications, but it’s so much broader than that. They might not know where to look for the roles – it could be that not seeing people like them in senior leadership positions is an issue.’
‘I want to make clear, there is not a supply issue when it comes to BAME talent,’ added Melissa. ‘Sometimes employers just don’t put much effort into diversity recruitment, and they don’t look in the right places. There can be a lack of transparency about where they advertise their vacancies. The Foundation wants to level this playing field – all of our programmes are designed to create a talent pipeline into the industry’.
Despite the restrictions of the pandemic – including the little issue of Melissa herself being put on furlough for a month, and two months for the Foundation’s programme manager – the foundation has pushed forward with its programmes this year, including PR training (‘On average 97% of the grads who complete the programme go onto a career in the industry, and last year 100% went into employment. Though it’s very tough, we get results’), PR mentoring and its Summer Stars internship programme.
‘I mentioned that there is not a supply issue for BAME talent – we are oversubscribed for all of our programmes. This year, we had over 200 apply for Summers Stars. Last year, we worked with over 110 businesses and over 400 volunteers,’ said Melissa. And the necessary move to this year’s all-virtual format for Summer Stars worked: ‘Out of the nine trainees taken on, four have been offered a job and the others are all interviewing. We had 16 internships for the year, all virtual. We’re really grateful for the employers in the network that helped’.
Melissa also shared the highs and lows that have come for herself and for the Foundation in light of the BLM movement – more donations for the TBF this year, more awareness, but also more upsetting stories of racism on Melissa’s social media timeline, more examples of discrimination sent to her inbox.
‘I think 2020 has been an exceptional year, bringing D&I to the attention of the world. But next year, will everyone be working as hard to bring inclusivity? I hope so. I’m going to give you an example. An alumni of the TBF, at a recent interview, was asked within the first three questions: ‘how do you pronounce your name?’, ‘what is the meaning of your name?’ and ‘were you born in this country?’. She was offered the role. She turned them down. These should not be the opening questions in 2020 for an interview – this happened three weeks ago. There is still so much to be done.’
For futures initiatives coming up from the Taylor Bennett Foundation, Melissa shared a little info on what watch out for. But for helping them with the work of welcoming more people from BAME backgrounds into PR and comms now, the foundation is looking for more mentors. Could you help?
‘We’re looking for people across all levels and all backgrounds. What we really want is our mentors to be on board with our vision. If you can offer guidance and support – that’s it.’