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Words are not enough.

By Jessica Graham, APR, Fellow PRSA posted 06-24-2020 10:26 AM


I have struggled to find the right words over the past several weeks. Nothing I say can make this better. Nothing I say can right the wrongs. But I have seen the calls for all of us to speak up against racism. And so I am compelled to do so.

As a communicator by trade, I understand the value and importance of words. They do matter. But today they are not enough. Tweeting out a statement is not enough. Below are just a few actions that businesses of all sizes can use - starting today - to put real power behind the words.

Take time to learn. Take advantage of the many (mostly free) diversity panels, workshops and other discussions happening these days. Collaborate with your Black colleagues and offer opportunities for your employees and clients to learn. Find out how to stand up against racism and share those ideas with your networks.

Listen to your Black employees, vendors, clients and partners. Make sure they have a voice in your business. Smaller companies can reach out to colleagues and ask how you can more strongly support them. If you are a larger organization, establish employee resource groups, give them a budget to celebrate and to educate, and ask for their input to marketing, community and employee initiatives.

Establish a supplier diversity program. Whether you are a soloprenuer or a global corporation, you should take steps to ensure you are working with minority owned vendors. Make a concerted effort to find diverse suppliers, and if you can't find them, look for opportunities to encourage more minority access - and success - in your industry.

Take a close look at your organizational values. Are diversity and inclusion a part of your guiding principles? If not, why not? And if they are, are those just words? Or are you truly living that value? Do your policies reflect that commitment to diversity? Does your leadership team? Does your brand? Do you have a specific recruitment strategy to reach potential minority employees? If not, put together an action plan to do better.

These are just a few things that I've done in my career and that I've worked through with clients. I know this just scratches the surface, and I am not the first to make these suggestions. But if I can use my voice - however small - I will.

To my Black colleagues, clients and friends, I just want you to know that I see you. I value you for who you are. And I pledge to do what I can to support you and to change the narrative.

1 comment



06-28-2020 01:31 PM

Hi Jessica -- These are valid ideas, and thank you for outlining and presenting them. However, until core leadership (meaning Governance-centered) functions of PRSA reflect appropriate Diversity -- including professionals of color -- PRSA is going to stay on the same old Diversity merry-go-round, as decades of rotation have proven.

Regardless of how many POCs we have on the PRSA Diversity Committee or speaking at Conferences or penning PRSay blog posts or etc. etc. etc., until we have more professionals of color on the Governance Committee, Nominating Committee, and in the Assembly delegation – and until we undertake DEI as inherently an ETHICS issue wherein appropriate Diversity is always included on BEPS – we will NOT see consistent, long-term, adequate Diversity reflected in the key decision-making functions of setting PRSA’s agenda, setting policy, approving budget investments and otherwise taking an ACTION-driven approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, instead of a lip-service continuum in which we find ourselves. 

Incidentally, the ethics-reform bylaw change that I proposed alongside other PRSA members for the past two years (to do-away with the PRSA National Board selecting their own PRSA officer nominees) is absolutely critical toward ensuring PRSA executive board officer Diversity going forward, which has been egregiously missing in many recent years.  Please note that this reform that was opposed and successfully defeated, Jessica, by your own Governance Committee in 2018 and other co-chairpersons in 2019. The defeat was also fully championed by the 2018 and 2019 National Boards.  

Check me if I’m wrong, but the PRSA Exec Comm since 2016 (or even earlier) has been all-White.

Current critical decision-making leadership posts of the ilk I just described are not just all-White, they are nearly all-White-Male – in a profession dominated by females.  

Here’s just one of many problems with PRSA Board members choosing their own officer slate:

When PRSA National Board members of color are themselves running for officer seats (very often running against each other for the same officer slots, as well as against White colleagues as well), then what we've seen is that the remaining National Board members who are left to vote on the officer nominees are overwhelmingly White / non-diverse... which simply helps perpetuate the existing problem or, in the least, feed the clear perception that there is a systemic imbalance.

Of course – irrespective of how unhealthy or even toxic the current set-up is for PRSA as an organization or to the needs / demands of its membership – the PRSA National Board will never give up its new-found powers granted to it in 2016 and instituted in 2017. They will continue putting up the fight of their life to retain their own officer-selection politics.

Jessica, any of us who truly "pledge to do what (we) can to support" our colleagues of color should rethink and reverse the stance taken in these recent years on this specific issue. It’s core to the problem at hand.

Thanks. -MB