Aha Moments Critical To Achieving Diversity And Inclusion

Adopting the necessary changes for future success requires a cultural shift.

While much has been discussed of late about the role of CEOs in advancing workplace diversity and inclusion, I’m of the opinion that the most significant impact can occur once we connect to this important objective personally through key moments of insight. These ‘aha’ moments, if you will, are critical to moving our organizations and industries forward.

As CEO of Porter Novelli, a global communications firm within Omnicom Public Relations Group, I often meet with other CEOs from across our industry. There is universal agreement of the moral and business imperatives to diversity. We agree that when our talent mix represents those across gender, race, ethnicity, religion, generation, sexual orientation and social economic background, we drive better thinking and creativity. Last May, Angela Chitkara, professor at City College of New York along with the Holmes Report released survey findings from interviews of 16 CEOs in the public relations/communications industry that support this point.

However, findings from the E3 Task Force, made up of agency diversity leaders, tell a different story. The results of listening sessions conducted across the U.S. reveal a significant gap between what CEOs are communicating and what people of color are experiencing. This intention-experience gap was fully evident at last summer’s ColorComm, the conference for women of color in communications, where I and other agency CEO/COOs heard directly the E3 Task Force results for the first time. The heartfelt pain and frustration of those who have been overlooked and excluded was undeniable. I left the conference committed to making progress.

Currently, as the public relations/communications industry experiences dramatic industry shifts, where clients are demanding bigger, breakthrough ideas that integrate across marketing programs and businesses, I’m convinced we must embrace diversity and inclusion like never before. To deliver fresh, compelling campaigns that make a difference, we need diverse perspectives and creative tension to produce our best work. Our success depends on our ability to integrate diversity into all aspects of our business.

In the spirit of sharing, I’d like to offer three ‘ahas’ with the hope that it can make a difference across industries:

  1. Progress requires an embedded philosophy vs programs. For many organizations, diversity and inclusion programs provide initiatives for affinity groups, training, onboarding and more. The concern I see is that these programs can run separately or parallel to the overall business rather than integrated into daily business strategy. The most senior ranks within an organization must embrace diversity and inclusion as a philosophy for day-to-day operations across the organization, not just outsourced to HR as a program. Diversity and inclusion becomes real when it is an integrated way of working as an organization.
  1. Everyone needs a champion. Preparing for the next waves of industry transformation, we must be agile, innovative and culturally aware. As a cultural bias, however, many communications firms including ours tend to recognize those who are extroverted and are self-advocates over those who are less likely to speak up or raise their hands for opportunities. They may be enculturated to keep their heads down, work hard and expect to be noticed. In most cases, these are really matters of style and have nothing to do with confidence, talent or hard skills.

I’m concerned, however, that many who fall into these categories are women and people of color and those who feel different. Without the right manager, a champion or self-advocacy, chances are they will be overlooked. And, if we as an organization aren’t putting thought against that, we’re missing out. We must better identify the structures and bias that prevent true inclusion and pursue championship, sponsorship, coaching and mentorship for our talent. Everyone needs a champion, not just those who fit the traditional mold.

  1. Finally, we need to create opportunities for more ‘aha’ moments. Earlier this year, we launched Porter Novelli Perspectives, a facilitated dialogue platform to introduce our teams to diverse viewpoints and create opportunities for aha moments, and build understanding and empathy. Attending the listening session during ColorComm with other industry CEOs was a rich and educational experience. We heard real issues firsthand, the emotion behind those issues, and some solutions on how to drive progress. To me, we do not need more CEOs talking about the importance and strategy for diversity and inclusion, we need CEOs to get comfortable with specific issues and tactics to make a true difference.

I applaud PwC Chairman Tim Ryan and CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion for the efforts to create collective action and spark change. The communications industry, starting with our CEOs, needs to have the same level of courage and conviction to drive an industry movement.

In this series, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™ signatory CEOs share their dedication to acting for workplace diversity and inclusion to make impactful changes that benefit both business and society. Follow along with #CEOAction and learn more at CEOAction.com

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