A Call for Action: The Role of DEI Data in Charting a Path Forward

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Carmella Glover, President, Diversity Action Alliance 

As storytellers by trade, we’ve undoubtedly heard convincing perspectives touting diversity or calling out a lack of diversity within the workplace in the PR and communications industry. Leaders trumpet the growth of diversity in their teams, the new hires or recently promoted employees who represent a marginalized group, the newly added programs helping to develop and retain non-White talent, and other diversity initiatives that seem well-received internally and externally. Conversely, professionals of color share stories about being tokenized, undervalued, undermined, and invisible. As we know, this is a multi-faceted issue with many layers to peel back, and data allows us to uncover the truth, set actionable goals and chart a path forward. 

Insights from a well-designed survey are invaluable. Within our enterprises, we’re already successfully leveraging strong data insights to improve employee engagement, strengthen stakeholder sentiments, measure the success of internal and external campaigns, and track the improvement of gender diversity. However, somehow it has been difficult to pin down the data and insights needed to move the needle when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within PR and communications. The Diversity Action Alliance (DAA) in its recent report titled, Race and Ethnicity in Public Relations and Communications Benchmark Report, aims to solve this.

According to the survey, which is the first of several survey-based reports exploring the race demographics of Public Relations and Communications professionals in the U.S., as of January 1, 2020, the PR industry was still only 21 percent diverse. While this is hardly a surprise and we’ve been aware of the systemic racism, inequities, and lack of diversity in our field for decades, the report highlights jarring figures on where we stand today that spark the need for swift and decisive action to increase the diversity and equity of our field. 

Some of the key insights from this first report are confirmation of the stories we hear from communicators of color. Although the benchmark report is a static snapshot representing only one calendar year, the percentage of people of color promoted versus White employees is telling. “Less than a fifth of those promoted were racially/ethnically diverse.” As we track representation and promotions year over year, the expectation is that we see an increase in both representation and promotion percentages. 

Over the years, many campaigns, including 2016’s #PRSoWhite have called the lack of diversity in the industry out explicitly. Still, the data shows that little has been effectively implemented and sustained to change that. The most significant actions seem to come as a result of a major public mistake or employee outcry. However, having a proactive approach is important and better to be in front of your DEI strategy than to be playing catch up in controlling your narrative in the era of social media and cancel culture. 

As we know, the most well-articulated intentions around diversifying our organizations and inclusive leadership without real action are as fleeting as the quickly changing news cycle, and as a result, DEI-related initiatives are often shelved for “more pressing” business items that arise. What better way to drive accountability than to utilize data to ensure we keep our foot on the gas? We now have a lever of accountability in black and white (no pun intended) to keep us honest five years from now when leaders affirm that we’ve made serious progress. Peter Drucker’s adage about not being able to manage what you can’t measure is truly timeless. 

If by 2025 we continue to see hard evidence of meager efforts and inadequate diversity each year, it will be a convincing sign that our industry is complicit in perpetuating systemic racism and workplace biases that stifle diversity, equity and inclusion. Agencies cannot wait on clients to demand results and action. Communications departments cannot wait on the rest of the enterprise to roll out diversity action plans. The Page Society affirms the critical role of communicators in its extensive CCO as Pacesetter research report stating, “CCOs are heavily engaged in instilling a new kind of corporate culture that is taking hold across business.” With a heavy hand in transforming the culture of an enterprise and how it interacts with all stakeholders, it is evident, that communicators need to lead the charge.

Many in my personal network stand firmly on the belief that this field is one where you, as a person of color, come to cut your teeth in client work or strategic communications then take your talents elsewhere. I’m optimistic that the data will help to drive the change we need for that to no longer be our truth. The sheer optics move us in Public Relations, so publicizing the data and the progress (or lackthereof) is critical for inspiring action-oriented change. 

Commitment to doing the work needs to go beyond lip service. This year the DAA also hosted its inaugural Diversity Dinner. The theme, Accelerating Diversity through Profound Actions: Do More, Do Better, underscored our belief that we aren’t even scratching the surface of what must be done to expedite progress. To be clear, submitting data that will ultimately be aggregated is a simple task. It’s not a profound action, but it is pertinent. Increasing the pipeline of diverse candidates into our profession, creating inclusive workspaces for all to thrive, and creating paths to leadership for employees of color are simply abbreviations of the issues we must address. Underneath each lies a system of inequities and challenges that will take work and consistent effort to fix.

The DAA is committed to being a force multiplier of best practices for championing diversity within our industry. But it will take the commitment of the entire industry, to meaningfully address the deep-rooted issues that the data shows us, in order to see the progress necessary on DEI for the future of this profession. To that end, we will issue an amended version of the benchmark report in Q4 with more data, and a progress report comparing January 1, 2020, to January 1, 2021. Organizations will have had over a year to make hires and promotions that reflect their support statements. We’re going to keep doing this each year, gleaning new insights and guiding organizations to go back to the drawing board if action plans prove ineffective. The DAA promises to serve as a clearinghouse, honest broker, and central location for resources, but we can’t fix the issue, that responsibility belongs to each organization.

If you haven’t yet done so, join the DAA, submit your numbers, and let’s see where we stand. Together, we can chart our path to mirroring the beautiful diversity of our nation. By driving a downward trend in that nearly homogenous 93% of top communications executives, we will undoubtedly also see a downward trend in gaffes that offend key stakeholders and in the loss of BIPOC talent. We’ll also hopefully see an increase in the number of people of color pursuing communications as a lifelong career.


About the Author: Carmella Glover is President of the Diversity Action Alliance and the Director of DE&I at Page. In her Page role, she provides strategic direction for member and staff DE&I initiatives. In partnership with the DAA Board, she oversees the operations, programs, budget, and strategic plan of the Diversity Action Alliance (DAA). The DAA is a cross-industry coalition led by communications trade organizations with a mission of accelerating progress in meaningful and tangible achievement in diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field for people of color. Before she transitioned to Page, Carmella was the first-ever Executive Director of the PRSA Foundation. She oversaw budget, compliance, programs, and operations for the charitable arm of the PRSA – also focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Glover brings over ten years of corporate experience from L’Oréal USA, Procter & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson. Before transitioning into Diversity Communications, Glover was a subject matter expert in supply chain and manufacturing operations. She was designing the organizational strategy for and leading a team of supply chain managers at L’Oréal U.S.A. Glover was accountable for the successful launch of luxury skincare products netting $100+ million in new sales annually, which required close partnership with Marketing and PR business partners. These cross-functional partnerships would be the impetus to her transition into communications. Other operations in her purview included internal communications, intranet newsletters, blog posts, and occasional media relations. Being the only female engineer and often the only Black leader in a room of decision-makers, Glover quickly discovered the synergy between her skill and purpose.

In May of 2019, Glover was the recipient of the Logos Institute Rising Leader Award and a keynote speaker at the New York University School of Professional Studies May 2019 commencement. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology and a Master of Science degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communications from New York University. Glover is an active member of Newark’s Beta Alpha Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, wherein she exercises her zeal for philanthropy. She resides in North Jersey with her husband and daughter.