In business, representation matters. It’s long been proven that creating a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion is not only the right thing to do, but good for business from recruitment, retention and bottom line perspectives. I have the honor of serving as president of PRSA Detroit this year and, while diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) has been a focus for decades, I was elected last year partly on my desire to make it even more of a priority.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and subsequent protests, the imperative for tough discussions around diversity have come into full view. Many in the business community—specifically, communicators—were ready to go beyond surface conversations about why DE&I matters, and transition to more meaningful action surrounding the role it plays in organizations and the community at large and how communicators can drive change.
PRSA Detroit has always provided diversity programming, but the current climate called for something different. Knowing there was a real need to have a legitimate conversation about DE&I in the communications industry, we partnered with IABC Detroit to coordinate a panel discussion with Detroit professionals and business leaders.
This virtual panel turned out to be one of the best-attended events in PRSA Detroit history and, while we weren’t trying to solve long-term, systemic issues in a one-hour session, we felt it was critical to simply have the conversation and establish a starting point for further change.
DE&I in Detroit
Moderating the 60-minute conversation was recognized journalist, multi-university adjunct professor and president & CEO of The LEE Group, Mark S. Lee. The panelists included Bridget Hurd, Chief Diversity Officer and Senior Director, Diversity and Inclusion at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan; Lydia Michael, President and Owner of Blended Collective; and Daniel Wallace, Global Diversity Initiatives Manager at General Motors.
These experienced leaders in the corporate, consultancy and marketing fields shared with attendees their unique perspectives and best practices about the topics of communication, diversity and inclusiveness. Beyond explaining the importance of DE&I at a high level and why every organization needs to have a plan in place to address it, there were very specific questions asked of the panel, particularly around challenges we face as communicators.
Earlier this summer, when there were questions about the Black Lives Matter movement and public outcry about what companies were and weren’t doing to address the issues, the panel noted that, while organizations rushed to make statements, there has to be a certain level of intention in the act. Tackling workplace issues around diversity, inclusion, equality, combating microaggressions and the like takes effort. An organization’s approach needs to be rooted in authenticity, and that starts by understanding where you are as an organization and actively making strides towards where you can make an impact and advance internal and external progress.
The panel was also asked tactical questions surrounding best practices for DE&I. While there is no single, blanket answer for all companies, it was noted that there at least needs to be a starting conversation or point of progression—good, legitimate dialogue around what’s right and what’s wrong in this moment, how to appropriately proceed and how to deal with internal conflict within an organization when everyone isn’t on the same page about these issues.
PRSA Detroit exists to provide development opportunities for professionals to be smarter, better and better connected—this discussion was just one more iteration of that ethos.
The big theme of the panel was authenticity, and walking the walk. It’s one thing to say an organization really cares about diversity, but when that sentiment does not translate to leadership voice or action, it can raise eyebrows. That’s not to say companies should try to be something they’re not—you can only create a path to become the company you want to be. That’s how we counsel clients here at Identity.
As communicators, we have a role to shape these important discussions in a larger way. We’re often the conscience of our organizations—playing a role internally and externally to help facilitate dialogue, communicate progress and hold leaders accountable for presenting their views in the best way possible. When the public starts asking more questions about where a company stands on DE&I, it’s up to its communicators to help advance their viewpoint.