Last night I had the privilege of attending a panel of professional women as they discussed diversity, inclusion and leadership in public relations at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications. These topics are increasingly relevant in the PR industry and the large amount of students in attendance confirmed this.
Panelists included Anneliese Cassalia, Public Relations Coordinator at Eric Mower + Associates; Dara Royer, Senior VP, Chief Communications Officer at Syracuse University; Eboni Britt, Public Relations and Communications Manager at Eastman Kodak Company; and Master Sargent L. Angel Ford, New York Air National Guard.
This panel provided a great amount of information and advice that was both inspiring and awakening. Royer noted that women make up 60 percent of the PR industry, but women run only 30 percent of firms. How do we improve this? The panelists offered insight into why diversity in the workplace is so important.
One of the biggest takeaways I learned from this panel is that women often count themselves out. Royer added that when looking at an application, women feel as though they need to meet around 95 percent of the requirements in order to consider applying. This is proof that women hold themselves to high standards, thus holding themselves back. In order to make your voice heard you must prove yourself. Sometimes this means going above and beyond. Eboni Britt added, “When you couple your work ethic with your personality, people will go to bat for you.”
As an aspiring PR professional, I was intrigued to learn about workplace culture. I am always looking for an inclusive workplace that challenges me while maintaining my core values. The panel suggested that upon joining a new company, one should lay low, understand the work culture and then present ideas when you have gained everyone’s respect and built strong individual relationships.
Something that interested me was an idea Cassalia suggested when gauging the workplace culture of a company. Setting up an “informational interview” can allow you to evaluate the daily interactions of an employee’s workday instead of hearing a cookie-cutter response. For example, do not ask, “What is the culture of the company?” Instead ask, “Can you give me an example of a time where the culture really came to life here and where did you see that?” This allows you to voice your concerns in order to find a workplace that suites your individual goals.
Diversity and inclusion is necessary for a successful workplace environment and discrimination, while tough, can be conquered. Britt advised, “You have to choose your battles and determine your long-term goal. That will help you determine what you can and can’t accept.” Figure out your personal brand and believe in it. By owning your own brand, you will be able to differentiate between constructive criticism and criticism you should disregard. We have to believe in ourselves and stay true to our ideals.
“Innovation rarely happens without diversity and conflict. Be a change agent.” -Royer
It is important to remember that our brand may only fit in with certain cultures. This does not mean a place where you are similar to everyone else. Ford added, “Step out into unknown territories and embrace triumphs and failures.” While failure can be lonely and daunting, Ford noted that if you can conquer failure while maintaining your integrity and brand, you will grow to be a better person at home and at work.
A key point made by the panel was that you are never too old to be mentored. Diversity can be exercised in something as small as listening to others’ feedback. Others may not always take your advice, but at least they are listening. Mentorships can often times lead to harsh feedback, but this is vital to learning and networking.
Overall, I am glad I attended this panel as it taught me to continue to be hungry to learn and to grow. I will keep this advice with me as I continue my career in public relations.