Racial Equality in PR and at InkHouse

Jul 15, 2020 Beth Monaghan

Recently a group of PR professionals has assembled under the name Hold the PRess to hold the PR industry accountable for making progress in racial equality. I applaud these efforts. We need to be honest about the problem in PR so we can be open to the solutions. Racial equality is a human imperative, but it is also a business imperative for PR. As communicators we are asked to imagine the lives of other people so we can craft communications that reach them. How can we do that if we have a mostly white lens?

When I first began fighting for equal pay and paid leave, I learned about the value of accountability. As I wrote to the InkHouse team in early June, intentions are not enough. Under-represented groups need to see people who look like them in the positions they aspire to. They also need mentors and sponsors who can help them get there. During the #MeToo movement I made a plea for the good men to support women and with racial inequality, it is the job of the white community to dismantle the privileged infrastructures that enable it. 

Not only is InkHouse providing our data to Hold the PRess, but I am going to publish it here. They have noted that PR is 89.7% white, and InkHouse is no exception. We have lots of work to do. Hold the PRess has requested the following information, and InkHouse’s answers are included with each item:

  1. Diversity breakdown: 10% overall (our EEOC breakdown: 85% female, 15% male, 5% Black, 2% Asian, 1% Hispanic, 3% two or more races).
  2. Number of current employees who are Black: 5, and people of color in executive roles: 0.
  3. Number of current client accounts that are Black-owned/led and people of color owned/led: 2 are Black-owned/led and 4 are owned/led by people of color. (Two notes: 1. These numbers reflect the lack of diversity in the tech industry, our largest client sector. 2. InkHouse’s pro bono work is dedicated to nonprofit organizations led by women and people of color that fight for equality. For the past three years it’s been for the ERA Coalition.)
  4. Our action plan: see below.
Our Action Plan:

I’ll be honest, three years ago we were 100% white. After implementing a more rigorous hiring process we are now 10% diverse and I want that number to be 20% in three more years. Following are the initiatives we’ve implemented, and are committed to continuing: 

  • We conduct internal pay audits for gender and race, and we report our data to the Boston Women’s Workforce Council
  • We recruit outside of PR agencies, which offer predominantly white talent and have removed the agency experience requirement from our job descriptions.
  • We’ve implemented rubrics for reviews and hiring to remove personal preference from these decisions. 
  • We recruit from and teach classes at diverse universities, notably UMass Boston.
  • We provide employees with time off to volunteer and we coordinate teams for nonprofits like 826 Boston, a youth writing and publishing organization that empowers traditionally underserved students ages 6-18 to find their voices, tell their stories, and gain communication skills to succeed in school and in life.
  • We’ve banned participation on panels that are all white or all male.
  • We advocate for policy change that creates equality. In addition to equal pay and paid leave, we have supported transgender rights
  • We work to create an inclusive culture where everyone can come as they are
  • We staff our teams so that employees have access to different types of accounts, and roles (media, social media, content/writing, creative) so they can find their specialities.
  • We added a 10th value for our 10th anniversary in 2017: “We generate the best ideas through diversity. It requires diversity of thought, gender, race and political views to get us to the best ideas.”

Now to the new initiatives we have committed to:

  • We are conducting trainings about unconscious bias and understanding racial inequality for our management team and the entire agency with YW Boston.
  • We have committed to a further review of our hiring practices and will include at least one person of color in the final interview round for each role. (And we hope we can pick up our hiring pace in the near future as we monitor the impacts of COVID-19 and the economic downturn.)
  • We will seek a 10% increase in engagement with external suppliers that are owned or operated by people of color. 
  • Following our trainings with YW Boston, we will work with them to create an internal diversity & inclusion committee.

We made many of these commitments in a joint letter with 56 other business leaders in Massachusetts (attendees of The Commonwealth Summit) that was sent to Governor Baker and the legislature. In that letter, we also advocated for policing reform, demographic data transparency, race as a factor in environmental justice, and racial equality in housing and economic development. 

Like Hold the PRess, I do not believe in one time “performative acts for social media.” Change requires work and dedication — to understand our own biases and to see through our structural blind spots — so we can create a more equitable foundation. We have a long way to go, especially when it comes to diversifying our senior leadership team, and we are committed. I’d be delighted if Hold the PRess published the data they are collecting on an annual basis so we can benchmark our industry progress each year. 

Topics: Diversity, Inclusion, PR industry, HoldThePRess
Beth Monaghan

Beth is the CEO of InkHouse, which she co-founded in 2007 and has grown into one of the top ranked agencies in the country. Beth’s been recognized as one of the Top Women in PR by PR News, the Top 25 Innovators by The Holmes Report and as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth believes that shared values, and the freedom to create are the foundations of all meaningful work. She brings this philosophy to building a culture of creative progress at InkHouse.

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