A DEI Communicator’s Wish List for 2023

We’ve made great strides on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) communications as an industry since 2020.

More PR, communications and marketing professionals than ever are educating themselves about DEI and prioritizing the application of a DEI communications framework to our audience engagement, messaging and strategic approaches.

Recently, Axios Communicators published a newsletter issue on inclusive communications and asked why agency-driven DEI efforts are so critical for the PR industry. I shared with reporter Eleanor Hawkins, “To lead by example, we must be the example, and level the playing field by removing obstacles and creating opportunity.”

To be the example, PR agencies and professional communicators have a lot more work to do in 2023. Here’s a few action items on my wish list for advancing DEI communications in the new year.

To Lead by Example, We Must Be the Example

We’re all a work in progress. No one — our staff, clients, peers — expects us to be infallible regarding diversity and inclusion. However, there is an expectation for organizations to be transparent and honest about our missteps, challenges, opportunities and actions for change. A statement of support isn’t enough. Instead, agencies need to engage with clear, accountable actions. We must demonstrate who is important to us and what we value with openness and authenticity.

Follow Our Own DEI Counsel

We advise clients daily on strategies that will create more diverse, inclusive, equitable and representative communications and yet, we often don’t follow our own advice. Questions communicators should ask ourselves and our organizations should be:

  • Have we applied a DEI framework to our own agency’s culture, policies, procedures and messaging?
  • Are we talking with our audience? We need to engage our employees and take the steps to foster diverse, inclusive, equitable, belonging and accessible work communities where all staff feel supported, valued and heard.
  • Are we welcoming in external counsel to help us assess, evaluate and develop a DEI action plan to address challenges and create healthier work communities?
  • Are we leading and listening to uncomfortable conversations that are then integrated into agency priorities, goals and growth strategies?

Ask Employees about Their Demographics and Identity Communities

To know the identity communities that make up our work communities, we should conduct voluntary and confidential demographic surveys with agency staff annually or biannually to gain an understanding of the real diversity of our workforces. Only then can we identify how to best create more inclusiveness. As we stress to clients, conducting audience research is key to effective approaches.

Understand Intersectionality and How It Will Shape the Future PR Workforce

When we think about diversifying the workforce, we often focus on recruiting diverse talent based solely on race/ethnicity and/or gender identity communities. However, current employees and potential candidates bring so many other identity communities with them into the workspace.

Intersectionality is a lens that recognizes that individuals are shaped by layers of identities, and they cannot be examined in isolation from one another. Each identity interacts and intersects in individuals’ lives and informs their experience, perceptions and sense of belonging within work communities.

We need to create work environments that support team members to be their authentic selves at work — shaped or defined by the intersections of such identities as race/ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality, national origin, socioeconomic status, language, ability, age and more.

Invest in Paid Internships

For many young or career-transitioning PR professionals who represent under-resourced identity communities, an unpaid internship is a privilege they can’t afford. We need to help level the playing field.

Due to centuries of discrimination, prejudice and bias shaping our institutions and systems, the financial burdens experienced by these communities often are significant barriers to internship experiences. Less experience on résumés makes those candidates less appealing to a hiring manager.

We need to help jumpstart the careers of diverse PR professionals by removing obstacles. An important way to do that is through meaningful, paid internships.

Prioritize Less Harmful, More Inclusive Language

When addressing DEI in our communications work, communicators often get confused or frustrated with using the “right” or “correct” language when referencing specific identity communities.

Inclusive word choice has less to do with right or wrong or “political correctness.” It is about using language that represents an identity community in the way they identify themselves. The aim is that when used, inclusive words and phrases minimize the harm or lack of representation experienced by the identity communities in our communications activities.

What’s challenging is that inclusive language is frequently evolving, shifting. It’s important our style guides be reviewed twice a year or at least annually to best reflect how our audiences’ language evolves.

As our DEI style guide, Vanguard uses The Diversity Style Guide updated and edited by the San Francisco State University’s Journalism Department. The guide contains more than 700 terms related to race/ethnicity; religion; sexual orientation; gender identity; age and generation; drugs and alcohol; and physical, mental and cognitive disabilities. This resource brings together definitions and information from more than two dozen style guides, journalism organizations and other resources.

Let’s not let this wish list get discarded like our New Year’s resolutions. With investment and commitment, let’s build on the strides we’ve made and deepen our understanding and integration of a DEI lens into our organizations and our strategic communications plans throughout the new year.