ColorComm 2016: Putting Diversity Front and Center

No issue is too big to be above the news cycle. In a world where we are overloaded with information, anyone fighting for a particular cause must seize those moments where they become top-of-mind for mainstream media.

The timing of the ColorComm conference this year (an essential organization for women of color in all areas of communications) could not be better, as the possibility of a woman holding the highest office in the country has put the issue of equal opportunities in careers firmly on the main stage.


However, the fact the United States has the option to elect a woman as President is clearly not enough to propel all of us forward by itself. Breaking through the Presidency of the U.S. may be one of the highest glass ceilings, but it’s not the only barrier that women and minorities must face. Politics is an industry just like any other, and sector specific insight into how gender still affects career chances is still needed.

This will be the focus of the panel I will lead at the ColorComm Conference later this week – #C2Miami, but in the spirit of seizing the moment, some of the most important arguments are laid out here.

Public Relations, and the communications industry in general, is highly inclusive for women at entry level but leadership roles still frequently go to men, and representation is even more skewed when it comes to women of color.

We still hear that the reasons for this are ‘complex’ and ‘multiple’ – which, taken together, they are. However, many challenges that women face are as obvious as they are overlooked. We are judged too much by how we look relative to the work we do; if we are as assertive as men we are ‘bossy’; and too many professional compromises need to be made for family planning fall to us.

There are many practical steps women can take to overcome this on an individual level, but I have always felt we have responsibility to leave any team, company and industry in a better place than when we entered it. So in the communications industry, as well as PR, we must continuously make a wide-reaching case for why diversity is a business imperative, and not just political correctness.


Across multiple sectors, companies with the highest representation of women in senior management teams have higher return on equities and returns to shareholders. But in marketing services and communications, we have even more of an obligation to hear from a greater range of voices.

This is because creativity requires a more diverse section of people to keep producing new ideas. Diversity is therefore essential to the business of PR and the underrepresentation of women and women-of-color in leadership roles means we are drawing from a smaller pool of talent and ways of problem-solving. Good ideas can come from anywhere, male or female black or white.

However, this is not happening fast enough, especially in creative roles themselves which are especially important in our increasingly integrated communications agencies. In 2008, only 3.6% of the world’s creative directors were female. Now it has only grown to 11%.

The lack of diversity in our workplace is unreflective of the increasingly diverse marketplace we exist to serve, and is having a profound impact on the work we make. According to research by CreativeEquals, 91% of female consumers feel advertisers ‘don’t understand them’ and seven in 10 women go further to say they feel “alienated” by advertising.

Overcoming the culturally ingrained biases that hinder diversity will take a concerted effort from every walk of life, but we cannot wait for legal and corporate policies to catch up to us. So what can we do?

Firstly, we can take advantage of the changes in technology the communications industry. Today, everyone can be a maker and build their own brand through social media, their own website, YouTube channel, or podcast. This allows more ideas to be heard and shared that otherwise may not have been.

But it is not just about who is behind the work we make, but also about how we represent people in the work we make. This is somewhere the PR industry is making progress. Work that promotes female empowerment is well rewarded – inside the corridors of creative agencies and outside on main street.

If this creative expression of diversity continues, it could turn PR and Advertising from a partial source of the problem, having shown such a narrow array of female stereotypes for so long, into part of the solution to racial and gender equality.

Quite simply, moving towards an industry that more accurately mirrors the world we are supposed to be communicating with, will help create a more equal and effective industry. If we do so we will all benefit and can make sure there is no limit to people’s potential.

The face of the Mad Men (and women) in 2016 should look very different.

Ben King, Account Director at Ogilvy Public Relations contributed to this piece.

This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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