4 Areas for PR Professionals to Explore Diversity & Inclusion Awareness

At the beginning of the year, Crosby and the PRC team asked if I’d be interested in covering any thought pieces. I immediately noted my strong interest in diversity/inclusion, mindfulness meditation and self-care and community care.

I have been active in diversity and inclusion for most of my life, both professionally and personally. As a woman of color, I have always strived to be in the know, while not necessarily fitting in or even feeling included.

I have a longtime mindfulness meditation practice and personal interest in self-care and community care. Both have become increasingly relevant over the past two years, in large part due to the current climate in our country, the media scene, and even my occasional frustration that D&I work can be so slow moving sometimes.

The topic of diversity and inclusion has always loomed large in fashion ~ whether it’s from a desire to see more representation on the runway from different races and ethnicities, a variety of body sizes, a range of ages, differently-abled people, LGBTQIA representation and more. More recently though, the industry has been challenged to do less talking only and more cat-walking the talk.

Fashion has always been used to make statements, and for the past couple of years, fashion has involved a range of statements ~ from politics to inclusivity. There’s synonymous-colored clothing at large-scale events to symbolize solidarity, brands opting to dress (or not dress) select people, the missteps of fashion choices (read: Melania Trump), and steps toward more inclusivity on the runway.

When it comes to fashion PR, some may underestimate what these brand choices communicate and what we, as brand representatives, need to do.

As PR professionals, we adhere to professional guidelines and may even adhere to a code of conduct, but some bonus skills involve:

  • Self-awareness (for example, is promoting a tobacco product in conflict with your values?)
  • Critical thinking (since the obvious isn’t always the answer, it’s beneficial to think several steps ahead and think through various scenarios and outcomes. How do you know you’re right? Examine your own thinking from time to time.)
  • Guts (there will be some tough conversations, and not just about billables but also about the reality of where a brand/client is on their PR journey. The “relations” part of PR is real.)

All three of these bonus skills are involved when it comes to D&I work.

Here are a few key ways you can remain aware of diversity, inclusion, and culture development (as well as socio-cultural factors), and your role in it all as a PR professional or brand representative:

1. Start at Home

Critical thinking and self-reflection occur when you enter this space. What have you come to believe about people who are different than you – in looks, experience or status? We may sometimes be aware of our own blind spots, and at other times, we don’t know what we don’t know. Yet, if we’re wise, we’re open to learning. Where do you want to learn and grow? Anything you need or want to change? If you’re not sure where to start with your examination of your potential blind spots, consider Harvard’s Implicit Bias test.

2. Examine Your Circles

Take a look at the people within your agency, at your clients, and in your circle of friends. Does everyone look similar to you? Are you in a leadership position? What does your staff look like? Regardless of your “classified race,” what does your friend circle look like? Could you diversify across lines of race, ethnicity, social status, etc.? Not just for the sake of diversity but to actually be friends with someone who doesn’t look like/walk/talk/think like you – someone you can genuinely bond with and who brings new and different experiences to the table (and perhaps you serve in that capacity for her/him).

Critical thinking and self-reflection occur when you enter this space. What have you come to believe about people who are different than you – in looks, experience or status? We may sometimes be aware of our own blind spots, and at other times, we don’t know what we don’t know.

We’re in the business of relationships, and contrary to popular belief, we know that not everyone in our industry is an extrovert. (Ambivert here!) Whether extroverted, introverted or someplace in between, engaging people is part of our job. While we’re not able to be friends with everyone, most of us know how to professionally connect and what we don’t know, we learn because our work depends on it. So it only makes sense that your circle is as diverse as the planet, and that you’re engaging with different individuals, introducing yourself to different audiences and groups of people.

3. Prepare Yourself for Discomfort

You know the feeling you have when you need to work out but you haven’t done it in awhile? You know it’s good for you but you’re kind of avoiding it because you know you’re going to be uncomfortable. That’s the D&I talk sometimes. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s also beneficial…and important.

I don’t recommend that you delve into conversations around race/ethnicity, LGBTQIA concerns, etc. haphazardly. Don’t be scared, but also don’t be careless. Conversations around race and power can be touchy. I recently likened the conversation to talking to a mother about her child. If you’ve ever had a difficult conversation about someone’s child, if you had any sense, you were mindful of timing and choice of words. That’s what delving into uncomfortable, but important conversations can feel like.

The awareness piece comes in because you need to know if you want to bring in a third party expert to engage in professional conversations with clients dealing with sensitive or crisis D&I issues that impact the workplace culture or public perception. Having a diverse friend does not make a D&I expert. And neither does being a member of an underrepresented group (although I’d argue that being a member of the group most certainly brings a valuable and unique perspective in homogeneous environments. For instance, the insight from a woman in a male-dominated work environment most certainly has some credibility when it comes to perspective).

4. Commit to Listening and Learning

We all know overnight successes are rare, if not non-existent. Rome wasn’t built in a day (sorry for the cliche, and now the rhyme), so any D&I campaigns and initiatives will take time and ongoing support. This applies to your personal efforts, work at your agency, and conversations with your clients. This involves both ensuring your teams are diverse and taking periodic pulse checks.

People can get overly comfortable when they’ve hit the bullseye on a subject. But D&I (both the conversation and the work) is much more than a one-off workshop. It’s an ongoing commitment to learning and growth. It takes active, deliberate, ongoing participation. In today’s ever-changing landscape, we all must continue to grow. Be open to learning in this space and around unique issues that impact various individuals.

It took me awhile to write this article. Things to blame: my packed schedule. My desire to only write when I have something to say or really want to say. And the challenge of the topic. But, the main reason for the delay is because I feel strongly that this topic of diversity and inclusion isn’t a trend or fad or something that we only discuss when enough people are interested. I was mulling, pondering and living the reality of diversity and inclusion. This should be lived day in and day out. Yes, diversity and inclusion daily.

Because this subject is life. The world is diverse and always evolving, and so are we. As a member of the planet, we owe it to ourselves and to one another to move toward greater inclusivity.

Work life has historically had a rule of steering clear of sensitive topics like race, religion and politics, but never when it matters. My professional life has allowed it to matter, but even when it hasn’t, I’m comfortable with the uncomfortable. (Let’s be real, being a little awkward helps, too, so if that’s you, embrace it!)

When you look at your PR campaigns, the outlets you’re pitching, the audience you’re targeting, the ads you place, the influencers you invite, and the clients you serve – what does that look like? As storytellers, erasing people and their stories is not an option.

As a PR professional and brand marketer, how are you showing up for your clients? Your agency? And your world? We have a voice and point of view: let’s use and share them.

A few key ways you can remain aware of diversity, inclusion, and culture development as a PR professional or brand representative:
About This Author

Nancy Vaughn is an entrepreneur and principal, PR & Marketing Director of White Book Agency, a full-service public relations, marketing and special events firm, specializing in fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands. She excels at assisting media professionals and clients alike, and is called upon frequently by media outlets for her PR/business knowledge, coaching and industry connections. She leads strategic publicity and marketing campaigns for businesses across the country and her clients have been seen in/on: InStyle, New Beauty, Style.com, Forbes, Design Bureau, Luxe Interiors & Design, MSN Fitbie, E! TV, CNN Latino, Refinery 29, The New York Times, Daytime TV, Dwell and more.