Show 51 – Gender, LGBT+ and BAME Diversity in Comms

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Show 51 discussed three important areas of diversity – Gender, LGBT+ and BAME.

Russell Goldsmith’s guests were therefore invited on to the show to be able to talk from their own experience or as ambassadors of one of those specific areas and included:

Gender Equity and Balance + Confidence

A lot of Lisa blogs that she shares on her LinkedIn profile are about giving confidence to young girls and women in business too.  One of those posts was about the annual Girls 20 Summit that she recently attended in Munich, where the organisation is committed to cultivating the next generation of female leaders, through education, training and by providing global experience to increase female labour force participation.

It was held in advance of the main G20 summit and was attended by women aged 18-23, from 20+ countries including Russia, Lebanon and India where women’s rights are challenged. However, Lisa wrote in one of her blogs that even though it was the attendees were accomplished female delegates, most of the women still felt that they didn’t know how to network, or how to engage in a conversation about the best way to discuss their projects, and how to ask for their support in getting them off the ground and so she said that to witness their uneasiness and lack confidence was really disheartening to her. She therefore believes it extremely important to discuss both the cultural and structural barriers that exist for women to be successful in pursuing what it is that hey aspire to, but also for women who hold senior leadership positions to engage in this conversation and serve as role models to young women.

Iain added that he recently sat on a conference panel that Cicero hosted, at the time of International Women’s Day, and he believes that you can’t have a conversation about women without men, nor can you have a conversation about men without women, as it’s important to be balanced.  However, he felt it would have been wrong for him to chair the conversation because he feels that if men are always chairing the conversation, men inevitably want to talk about what men want to talk about!  But what did strike him at the time was that one of the delegates there, a high powered women who had been in the workplace for around 20-25 years, said that ‘girls put their hands up a lot more in the workplace about 20-25 years ago and that a lot of women have not wanted to put their hands up for those confidence reasons’.

This issue of confidence was a common theme.  For example, Sarah said that one of the reasons there is such a lack of ethnic diversity in PR is because they are not aspiring to work in the industry and she said it’s something the Foundation thinks about in terms of who is there to aspire to be – if you can’t see someone that looks like you, how can you aspire to be like that? Therefore to have a level of success, Sarah said you need the motivation to join an industry where you may not be represented and to do that takes a certain level of confidence.

Toni agreed with the role models example although she does feel it depends on background as she was able to gain her confidence quite early but generally, she thinks that anyone would feel uncomfortable in a room where people that don’t necessarily look like them or are talking about issues that they are not engaged with.

Edelman’s Global Women’s Executive Network (GWEN)

Lisa explained that GWEN was set up in 2011 with the objective is to increase the presence of women at the most senior level within Edelman, whilst also creating an environment where women are encouraged to lead and be successful. In 2011, 68% of the company’s employees were women, yet only 33% of the most senior positions were held by women – this has now risen 41% as of July 2017, although their goal is to reach a 50:50 gender split.

Edelman are focussing on three measurable areas to achieve this aim:

  1. Building a pipeline for executive recruitment
  2. Addressing unconscious bias that may exist through training
  3. Advancing their approach to senior level succession planning and career development

Whilst they are closing in on their 50% target, they originally wanted to achieve it within five years.  However, Lisa said it’s key to understand two things:

  1. What drives women to move up and stay at Edelman
  2. What impacts leaders to unconsciously select men over women

Lisa said it’s therefore important that they create an inclusive culture that allows for women, but also all employees, to successfully navigate their careers at the company.  She added that they also know from their employee data that often, many women in the middle of their careers, make a conscious decision to have more family time and so at Edelman they don’t want it to be an either/or proposition between their career and their family, which is why they are starting to adapting their HR policies accordingly, for example, by extending maternity leave time, offering more flexible working options and allowing women to work from home.

Women in Finance Charter

The issue of Gender Diversity and Inclusion is also high on Cicero’s agenda too and in fact, at the time of recording, they were the only comms company in the City of London to have signed up to the Women in Finance Charter, which commits companies to supporting the progression of women into senior roles.  Iain believes that companies should be held to a more public test as to whether or not companies are doing what they aspire to be doing and said that it’s important to him to ensure that women have more of a voice ‘at the table’.


In Iain’s new role is as an ambassador for Stonewall, he was recently quoted in an article in the Telegraph that was reporting on a 2016 study by Credit Suisse that said that 72% of US LGBTQ senior executives have not come out at the office, yet over six years, those companies that had an inclusive approach to staff outperformed their rivals by 3%, where Iain said “Start-ups and established SMEs are often better able to create dynamic and open atmospheres than their larger counterparts. They tend to be younger, with less ‘old’ traditional entrenched views and cultures to weed out”. However, Iain added a further worrying statistic that two thirds of people that come out at university, go back in closet for their first job. He explained that it’s easier for bosses at SMEs to set the tone that at larger older organisations.

Lisa added there is so much data that supports the fact that those companies who are diverse and inclusive actually deliver stronger business results. She said that following the launch of GWEN, Edelman have also established some employee networks that represent all groups focussed on LGBTQ, Black and Latino communities as well as for Veterans and their families.  She also added that they are seeing a trend where a number of their global clients, such as HP and Unilever, are recognising the important of diversity inclusion and are expecting their agency partners to be diverse in their composition so as to better reflect their customers and who they are ultimately targeting, so that Edelman are bringing forward communications marketing programming that is reflective of their customer base.


Sarah explained that the Taylor Bennett Foundation was set up in 2007 and is best known for the programme that Toni graduated from, which is a 10-week programme that takes six black and ethnic graduates and gives them the skills, knowledge, experience and social capital they need to succeed in a career in the comms industry. Toni actually explained that it’s an intense programme and that if you are not self-motivated and driven, it will be very hard for you to get through the ten weeks.

Sarah added that by the end of 2017, they would have had 170 graduates go through the programme and over 70% of those now work in the communications industry.  She also said that there is a strong business case for ethnic diversity.  She referred to a 2015 McKinsey ‘Why diversity matters’ report, which talked about companies that are more gender diverse being 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians and that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to do the same. But she also asked how PR agencies can talk to a range of audiences when it’s not represented in their workforce.


Iain said that 5 years ago he would have said no to quotas in business and that people should get a role on merit before anything else.  However, he has seen the boardroom debate, and how Government has put pressure on corporates to do something beyond talking about it and he has now changed his mind! He feels there is real demand for diversity – for example, if he puts on a panel that is not sufficiently diverse to generate a conversation, people are voting with their feet. He feels that quotas are therefore needed for a while to help push through the balance.

Lisa whole heartedly agreed. She said that given lack of progress in diversity in the workplace, quotas need to be established and that in Canada, where no legislation exists, 46% of the companies that are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange have no women sitting on their boards.  Therefore, she feels that if companies are not addressing the lack of women on their boards on their own, then government intervention is needed.

Sarah recommended listeners read the CIPR’s ‘Impact of quotas and targets on diversity’ report and one by Ruby Macgregor-Smith on ‘Race in the workplace’, where the recommendations were that companies should have aspirational targets on diversity over five years, that are measured each year and she fully supports this. However, she feels that there is resistance in UK amongst the HR community against quotas.

Whilst Toni agreed to what was said, at the same time, she didn’t like to be seen as just a number. She feels that the business case for diversity should be strong enough for companies to integrate different recruitment techniques and training and perhaps helping some of those white straight men within the company to understand that they might have certain cultural biases and why that might be the reason the workforce is not diverse.

International Business

A real challenge for businesses is when they are working with international clients and have to visit their offices for a meeting or a pitch in a country that doesn’t share quite the same values as we do when it comes to gender, sexuality or ethnicity, and this is something Iain wants to get involved in with Stonewall but he said if we’re honest with ourselves, in certain territories, the client and money comes before the issues like those he cares passionately about, i.e., LGBTQ,  but he does see reason for hope as companies are being advised not to do business in those territories as it will do them damage.  He therefore thinks investor power will move some of these issues on really quickly.

Lisa added that as a global business, Edelman also have a responsibility to speak up about diversity and inclusion and so if they are presented with an opportunity with a prospect whose values are not aligned with their own, they will evaluate it, and if there is a misalignment they will not pursue the work.

Campaign Links

To finish off by offering each of our guests were giving the opportunity to plug the campaigns they are working on:

Sarah – It’s the Taylor Bennett Foundation’s 10th anniversary and they hope to raise £50K by the end of year. This will allow them to expand out of London.  Donations can be given via their website or JustGiving.

Iain – He was proud to have recently become a mentor for OUTStanding, told us to look out for some fresh campaigning from Stonewall, and wants to see more communications firms to sign up to Women in Finance.

Lisa – She said that according to a study by EgonZehnder, only 54% of women have access to female leaders who can act as mentors or informal sponsors of their careers, so Edelman have launched Opportunity Talks, an internal programme as part of GWEN that allows junior female employees to learn from the senior women at Edelman.

Final Word

We left the final word to Toni who offered listeners some advice if they are starting out in their careers. She felt that it is most important to have a good support system when starting out and a good mentor. She said to stay connected and build your social capital as it is important to remember there is value in the people around you and finally, to read, stay curious and be engaged in things that are happening around you as it’s important and a huge advantage to have an understanding of the fact that you are not the only one living this life and that there are other people in different parts of the world who are dealing with different things.

Thanks to markettiers for hosting us, recording the show and patching Lisa in from Toronto

Thanks also to global media intelligence provider CARMA for supporting the show too – please visit carma.com to find out more about how they can help you deliver actionable insights through media monitoring and PR measurement.

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