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September 19th, 2016

Breaking Down Diversity with PRSA

Diversity is one of those hot button topics right now in Silicon Valley and across corporate America. For too many companies today, in many ways diversity seems to be what corporate social responsibility was 3-4 years ago – something they need to do to “check the box.” It’s been about 3 years since the first diversity reports were released and the lack of progress since has left some skeptical of what companies – particularly in the tech industry – are doing to address the issue. 19757691424_3e4379e4cb_m

This was the center of the discussion at a recent PRSA event in San Francisco with leading journalists including Michelle Quinn, Mercury News; Salvador Rodriguez, Inc. Magazine; Caroline Fairchild, LinkedIn; Connie Guglielmo, CNET and moderator Ramon Ray, Smart Hustle. For those in communications, their insights were helpful in understanding where the diversity issue and conversation stands now, where it’s heading in the next few years, and how successful diversity programs require far more than PR sugarcoating.

Since I mostly work on corporate communications programs, diversity, culture and workplace issues are top of mind when thinking about how a company positions itself to current and future employees, investors and influencers. Diversity in particular is not one of those issues you can invest money into to make it go away – it requires real strategies, programming and commitment at the executive level (i.e. practice what you preach).

It’s also not one that’s easily defined – in addition to race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, diversity is also about having different ideas and schools of thought. The pressure is on for companies to commit to diversity at all levels – from hiring to training and development.

Below are the key takeaways from some of the most influential reporters covering diversity issues today. These may be helpful for anyone pitching these folks or considering how to tackle their company’s diversity strategy.

Michelle Quinn, Mercury News: Diversity coverage has gotten better partly because people are asking the right questions. In the past, we would never have seen first person discussions about what it’s like to be in the newsroom as a women/minority, but now we’re getting more voices. It would be great to see diversity best practices or industry standards put in place in the near future.

Caroline Fairchild, LinkedIn: We are no longer in media age where you have to rely on traditional gatekeepers to get your perspective out there – platforms like LinkedIn give everyone a voice. The diversity conversation needs to evolve past asking women what it’s like to be a woman in business.

Connie Guglielmo, CNET: The data shows diversity means more successful teams and more money for the bottom line, but companies don’t listen and there are no repercussions. Companies should start tying diversity to business/money, like Intel did with bonuses. Diversity is a management problem and it begins from the top down.

Salvador Rodriguez, Inc. Magazine: Pinterest, Yelp and PayPal seem to be doing some things right when it comes to diversity. They’re being realistic, focusing on ethnicity or women first, or engineering first. PayPal recognized that there was a huge pool of women who put careers on pause for some reason so they launched a “returnship” program to get started back at PayPal or at another company.

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