One common theme is around virtue signalling – some deeming this as a symptom of the so-called “woke culture” where people and businesses make half-baked statements around a topic in order to look engaged, but with no real intention or track record of action. Take Starbucks, for example, which released a statement about its stance around supporting the Black community, only for it to be revealed that it had banned its employees from wearing clothing or accessories in support of Black Lives Matter (a policy that was reversed after significant public backlash.)
The fact is that diversity is not a PR or reputational issue; it’s a fundamental business topic. There is no magical solution that a communications professional can offer you to make the topic go away – and anyone who claims to be able to do so is misguided, at best. Gone are the days when including people of colour in marketing material was enough to provide an illusion of diversity. Catalysed by the Black Lives Matter movement, businesses are being scrutinised far harder than ever before, and laggards are being forced to action. The simple truth is that everyone can be doing more for greater equality.
As with most issues, the media plays a crucial role in bringing topics to light and holding businesses accountable – but social media and citizen journalism has also help show the sheer scale of the problem. Taking action, however, should not be reliant on either form of media bringing a company’s failings to light. Being the proverbial ostrich, as always, will only make matters worse when – and not if – the truth is revealed.
Diversity across all dimensions is an increasingly critical subject, and we would be remiss to address the topic without looking at our own communications industry. In the PRCA’s latest PR and Communications Census it was found that just 10% of industry professionals in the UK are non-white. The world of public relations is largely considered to be a female-dominated sector with women making up to 67% of the industry, yet the average female professional is paid 13.6% less than the average male. The figures do vary depending on industry specialism – but it’s clear there are some structural imbalances at play here.
So, as we collectively look ahead to how we can build better businesses and societies, here are some hard truths:
- It is not enough to be “equal rights” – it’s time to be actively anti-discriminatory.
- Companies must be constantly challenging themselves to encourage greater diversity, and showing evidence of doing so. If not, they have no business making a statement once a year about how they “support” causes such as Black Lives Matter, LGBT rights or gender equality, and these statements will never be taken seriously.
- The world of business is seen to have a moral responsibility for not only doing the right thing, but also ensuring that the companies that they engage with, such as service suppliers, are also doing the same.
- Companies are increasingly being named and shamed for their lack of action on diversity, not only by the public and the media, but also their shareholders.
- Charity donations, regardless of size do not make you exempt from taking further action.
- The longer a company resists, the harder it will be to recover.
There is such thing as ‘too little too late’ – and exaggerating a business’ commitment, past and present, to equality will do you no favours; honesty really is the best policy. A business admitting past failures to act proactively but providing demonstrable action to remedy this tells a far more compelling story that that of one which issues a neutral-ish sounding statement. Remember, now is the time for definitive action – not for a short burst, for a month or a year, but for sustained long-term change. A policy for diversity and inclusion should be prevalent in all business activities, and this should be consistently communicated internally and externally.
Looking ahead, there is still cause for optimism. There is a clear intention for organisations to change and build more inclusive environments. As discussed in a recent JPES blog, the Covid-19 crisis may even accelerate a general move towards more flexible working, opening up the workplace to those who might otherwise struggle to access full-time employment in traditional city hubs, and with more companies prompted to action in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, we might just dare to hope that this might signal a step change in business behaviour.
What’s clear is that the topic is not going away, and we predict that it will only gain momentum in the coming months and years. Businesses need to catch up fast or risk falling behind for good.