Public Relations Professionals Shouldn’t Be the Only Ones 'Managing' Diversity

Anyone looking for a job in the last 30 years has seen some version of an equal opportunity statement included with the employer’s job listing. In the early days, it was a simple statement that said the company did not discriminate based on race, color or religion. As laws changed, the statements were embellished to include non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and disabilities.


Today, if you peruse the equal opportunity statements of most major corporations, you will see many tout their celebration of diversity. These companies believe they are actively living up to their non-discrimination messaging. However, in far too many cases, no one thinks about that message when it is time for photos of the leadership team, the sales team or a department being rewarded for hard work with public recognition.


Photos Tell a Different Story

The leadership team is all male, or all one race, the sales team doesn’t reflect the diversity of the clients it serves, or the departmental recognition shows a non-diverse team. Basically, there is a disconnect between aspirations and operations.


Too often, and sometimes after the fact, it is the public relations person who has to reinforce the need for diversity to the operations’ teams. It is this person who must point out that the lack of diversity in a photo can draw negative media coverage or criticism from external organizations. After the fact, it is the public relations person who must deliver the carefully crafted message that says the company is actively working on improving its record on diversity and inclusion.


What happened to the commitment to diversity touted in recruitment brochures and job listings? In some cases diverse employees are relegated to jobs where they are never seen and rarely recognized, such as call centers, support positions or warehouses. In other cases, diverse employees simply aren’t hired by managers who view diversity as their responsibility.


There are numerous studies that show a diverse team is as profitable, or more profitable, than a non-diverse team. The reason is simple, often a diverse team can help expand a customer or client base that would otherwise go unnoticed by a non-diverse team.

Diversity starts at the top. It is up to leadership to impress upon managers to build qualified diverse teams. If a manager feels they aren’t getting the right candidates from human resources to fill managerial positions, it is up to the manager to demand more from human resources. Every minority community has organizations that focus on finding jobs for their constituents. Recruitment from colleges and universities with diverse student bodies is as simple as picking up the phone and developing a relationship with the job placement team. All of these organizations have a vested interest in steering the best people to companies.


Companies that show diversity in their public documents – sales collateral, advertising, group photos – have an easier time recruiting diverse candidates and attracting customers. The message that photos communicate is powerful – diverse candidates are considered assets to the business.



Equity in Retention

It also shows the company is working to keep minority employees. Equally as important as hiring diverse employees is folding them into the business with meaningful assignments and realistic expectations. Leadership can’t delegate diversity to their diverse employees and wash their hands of any additional efforts. Far too often, these are the first people managers eliminate during the inevitable budget cuts. The reason for their elimination? Diverse candidates were never given the work that allowed them to live up to the expectations of the business because managers viewed them solely as people placed to satisfy quotas. Additionally, success for diverse employees has different criteria because they are expected to meet job requirements and diversity targets for which they have little authority to execute. In short, they have to be twice as good to be equal.


Diversity Setup for Success or Failure

Business is cyclical and depending upon when new employees are hired, diverse candidates can be set up to fail. The economy is recovering from a bad year, but the diverse employee is expected to meet a sales target from a region or client base that is in an area that hasn’t recovered. A retiring employee who has been allowed to sustain a region that hasn’t seen new business in years, turns over the portfolio to the new, diverse candidate. The retiring employee had years of nurtured relationships with a few accounts to meet sales objectives, while the diverse employee is given a year to expand the portfolio and add new customers. And, when the diverse employee falls short of the unrealistic target, the manager simply says, “Diversity didn’t work.”


The bottom line is the bottom line. Diversity in successful companies is a ubiquitous part of their operations, not an objective of the human resources department managed by the public relations team.

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