Talking Point

12 Diverse Days of Christmas #10

I am delighted to welcome Dan Gerrella to the blog. Dan and I worked together last year writing, on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and in association with the Centre for the Prevention of National Infrastructure, the UK’s first crisis communications guidance specific to terrorist and cyber attacks, 

Dan has spent his career in the property and construction sector, both in consultancy and client-side, providing strategic PR and marketing advice to companies and organisations in the UK and internationally.

“If you work in PR and keep track of the industry, you’ll know that there is a diversity issue.

“The CIPR State of the Profession 2019 revealed that:

  • PR is a predominately white industry (92%)
  • Over a quarter of practitioners (27%) went to a fee-paying school (versus a UK average of 7%)
  • Six per cent of respondents identified themselves as disabled (the UK average is 19% for working age adults).
  • While 67% of the industry is female, 44% of the most senior roles are occupied by men, and there is an average gender pay gap of £5,202.

“If you speak to anyone who works in PR, they will talk to you about the importance of diversity. It is generally agreed that to effectively communicate with key audiences it is essential to understand the background and experiences of the people being targeted.

“As a specialist in PR and marketing for construction and property companies, I see the same issues replicated. Many of the statistics detailed above are reflected within industry research.

“The built environment is facing a skills shortage; around 20% of people within the sector are likely to retire in the next decade. When coupled with a general perception that the image of construction is poor, the industry’s ability to attract enough new recruits and meet this challenge is hampered by the lack of diversity.  

“This is not a new argument for either PR or construction. And while there are positive examples of change, the pace is slow.

“It all starts with leadership. This does not mean simply introducing new policies and procedures, or making a public pledge. It is about driving cultural change – which for larger companies can be difficult. There is a certain level of inertia built within larger businesses, and it takes time to see results.

“Just as challenging is the detailed introspection that is required. Leaders must ask themselves whether there are behaviours within themselves, their business and their wider industry that make it difficult to attract and appeal to a diverse pool of people. This may mean recognising any privilege that they may have benefitted from or calling out bad practices.

“But it is too easy to say that this is only something to be tackled at the leadership level. Everyone should have diversity front of mind, especially when it comes to their own behaviours.  For communicators to be successful, this self-awareness is essential. You have to know where you have come from, and how that influences your approach to your work.

“In my early days of my career, I started working on the delivery of public consultations. We had to ensure that we developed a detailed understanding of the views and concerns of local communities. I learned quickly that I could not make assumptions – especially when it came to the delivery of messaging.

“I would regularly ask myself whether enough had been done to make information as accessible as possible. Was the language easy to understand? Were we providing materials in the right formats and at the right times? Were we taking enough steps to ensure that we would be able to communicate with everyone fairly, from the most engaged within the community to the hardest to reach?

“These questions also had to be balanced against practical factors, such as time and budgetary constraints.

“But it was only by constantly asking questions like the above, that it was possible to achieve a successful outcome. There was not a single answer, or a one size fits all approach. It’s the same for tackling diversity. The challenge to us all, is to keep asking questions of ourselves.”


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