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The Importance and Evolution of DE&I in the PR Industry

Published on Nov. 1, 2022, at 5:57 p.m.
by Sophie Collins.

With diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) becoming a staple in discussion — particularly how its existence is key to a harmonious workplace — it is clear that the topic is crucial to the success of the public relations industry.

This article explores the importance and evolution of DE&I in the PR industry from the opinions of three PR professionals: Ellora Lalla, account executive at Methods + Mastery, Betsy Helgager Hughes, president and CEO of BLH Consulting, Inc. and co-chair for the PRSA Georgia DE&I Committee, and Adrianne Smith, chief diversity and inclusion officer at FleishmanHillard.

Photo by Microsoft 365 via Unsplash

What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you?

DE&I has different meanings for each individual based on their perspectives and experiences in life. As a woman, my focus on DE&I leans more toward gender equality. In the same vein, the focus of DE&I for racial/minority groups could be tailored to discussions around that portion of their identity.

Lalla stated that DE&I is about actionable change led by people from a variety of communities. “It is important for diverse leaders to represent people that are not normally represented in our industry,” Lalla said.

Helgager Hughes said, “It is about being inclusive of a variety of different ideas, backgrounds and perspectives.” She noted that it is important to add a “B” for belonging. “You can have diversity, equity and inclusion, but if people don’t feel that they belong, they won’t stay,” she continued.

Smith also said that “B” for belonging fits in her definition of DE&I. “For me, it’s really all about human connections,” Smith said. Smith finds that it is important to create a space for everyone to thrive and be their most authentic selves.

Why is DE&I important in the PR industry?

All three professionals stated that PR practitioners are responsible for representing brands and creating connections with consumers. When the PR industry embraces DE&I, there is a better understanding of diverse clients.

Photo by Miles Peacock via Unsplash

Helgager Hughes shared that the intentional action of understanding varying perspectives is crucial to expanding scopes of influence. “If you don’t have that perspective that reaches a myriad of different people from different backgrounds, then you’re limited in who you can reach, which in turn limits your growth potential,” she further explained.

Similarly, Lalla said that it is important for PR professionals to understand the experiences and backgrounds of the brands with which they are working. Furthermore, she said that if a practitioner does not take the time to complete this crucial step, the quality of work will suffer due to the lack of internal connection with the brand.

Smith pointed out that a deficit of diversity, equity and inclusion can lead to inauthentic results within the PR industry. “If there is not a diverse community of people with diverse perspectives in PR, then we’re going to get that same monolithic, non-inclusive voice, which can be very damaging to any society and culture,” Smith added.

How can we expect DE&I to develop in the coming years?

Public relations is an industry that continues to evolve alongside other global industries. With an increasing amount of previously suppressed voices coming to light, DE&I is expanding in accordance.

“The growth of DE&I is moving toward neurodiversity, LGBTQ [inclusion] and mental health awareness,” Smith said. She added that DE&I is becoming embedded into organizations, with FleishmanHillard’s five DE&I pillars serving as an example as to how important DE&I is to the firm.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz via Unsplash

Lalla expects a wider variety of voices and perspectives to be heard. “My hope is that each community gets the same level of importance and recognition that they’ve always deserved, and that you see people of different backgrounds at every level of the decision-making process,” Lalla said.

“There need to be more diverse people, who also care about diversity, getting promoted into leadership positions,” Helgager Hughes said. “By having diversity integrated at every level, DE&I will become more of a way of life versus a program that checks a box.”

PR take-aways

“DE&I is not a competitive business,” Smith said.

PR professionals must work together to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment. PR professionals are storytellers, and it is crucial to include points of view from all different backgrounds and cultures. All in all, one thing is for sure: DE&I is here to stay. The PR industry must be prepared to keep up.

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