Effective communication: Seek diversity or find common ground?

In the wake of the launch of a manifesto for diversity in the PR industry, by PR professional networking group Ignite, Prospect ran a poll on their Something Different Linkedin page that asked whether or not the PR industry really is focussed on equal opportunities. Some of the feedback was posted in their blog today, in which All about the Idea‘s very own Nick Southall was quoted. 

“It’s more than pure traditional equal opportunities questions about race, ethnicity, disability, religion and sexual orientation that concern potential employers.”

Nick went on to say that all too often employers pigeon hole potential candidates based on what they wear and how they look.

Veronique Smith, Prospect Resourcing’s Head of Client Services, agreed with Nick, claiming that often it is how a candidate looks, or their personality, that makes or breaks their job search.

“In this market…[agencies] have to play it safe and build a team that they know will fit in with their client’s culture.”

Here, I have to ask, is this necessarily a bad thing?

A critical element of communication is knowing your audience – this is the first step to understanding how to engage with it. Just as at a dinner party with strangers, in making conversation with another guest, it’s good practice to focus on the aspects of their personality with which you most easily connect or identify, in order to find the common ground. This is common sense. It is not false, or fickle. It’s merely effective communication.

Surely, understanding a client’s culture, its preferences and messages, and then placing in front of it people that to some extent are able to mirror those qualities, is an effective way of engaging with that client and an indication that their brand has been considered and understood.

I accept Veronique’s point that a “more diverse team would certainly feed the creative process whilst also providing budding PRs with the break they have been looking for” and so, in seeking diversity, would not agency recruiters still be considering the candidate’s outward appearance?

In a team of T-shirt wearing, long haired creatives, in order to achieve diversity, an agency would lean towards the smartly turned out girl in a suit and heels. Is it unfair to say that the able bodied team that wants to win a contract with a disabilities charity might be swayed by the man in the wheelchair? Perhaps I’m being too cynical.

But my real question though is, in an industry focussed on how things are presented, on interesting angles and precision of delivery, should we  even be apologising for the emphasis that is placed on outward appearance?

Picture of the dance troupe Diversity at the European relaunch of Holiday Inn

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