Continuing the Conversation on DE&I in the Communications Industry with Fatou Barry, Founder, PR Girl Manifesto
by Taylor Fife, D&I Committee Member
Cultivating a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the PR industry is never done, but Fatou Barry, brand strategist and founder of PR Girl Manifesto, is passionate about the pursuit.
A leader of an inclusive virtual community of over 40,000 PR professionals, Barry is working to empower emerging and current PR and communications professionals to use their abilities to transform the industry, change the narrative and create a future of equitable and inclusive opportunities for all.
As a follow up to PRSA Pittsburgh’s 2021 virtual Black History Month event which featured Barry, Megha Pai, PRSA Pittsburgh D&I committee member, sat down again with the PR pro for an empowering and insightful conversation on the industry’s progress in implementing DE&I practices, how a career in PR can be a vehicle for advocacy, and provided tips to help both employees and employers excel in the industry and generate opportunities in the workplace.
DE&I in the PR Industry: Real progress or just for show?
It’s no secret that 2020 and 2021 were transformative years for DE&I—but with so many companies pushing the envelope with new initiatives, have they truly been effective in actively paving the way for underrepresented employees or have their commitments fell short, making empty pledges without looking at the big inclusive picture, otherwise known as “diversity washing?”
In Barry’s opinion, the industry has experienced positive shifts, but it still has a long way to go in increasing the pipeline of diverse individuals entering the industry.
Highlighting an advancement, Barry says PR no longer feels linear and DE&I work is impacting women and women of color in PR by opening more doors for honest dialogue.
“In the past, there was a very tried and true path to get into the industry, but what we’re seeing now is greater acceptance and support for those who take a non-traditional route to a career in PR,” says Barry.
Barry believes that the continued embrace of job candidates with diverse career and educational experiences can help increase accessibility and eliminate a barrier to entering the industry by opening the door to more candidates with different backgrounds that can lead to greater innovation.
“PR is no longer just about knowing how to write. It’s multidisciplinary,” says Barry. “Job seekers with diverse backgrounds often have transferable skills like brand management and digital analytics that can help intertwine traditional PR practices with social and experiential.”
Barry also believes that the perception of the industry has continued to shift, thus opening doors for diverse candidates in non-PR fields to get involved with communications.
“There are so many ways you can go with PR,” says Barry. “You can work for healthcare, tech or social impact brands, for example, and that’s not something that many people thought about five years ago.”
Barry also says greater workplace flexibility, such as work-from-home or work-from-anywhere options, brought on by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, is helping to encourage diverse, equitable and inclusive practices in the industry. Employees are better able to plan their time, take actions to improve their well-being and achieve a healthy balance between their work and life.
Citing another advancement in the industry’s DE&I practices, Barry says she’s noticed a greater emphasis on how intersectionality affects DE&I efforts at work. The color of an individual’s skin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and any other unique identifier all interact to affect their lived experience and how they show up to work. A rise in popularity and implementation of employee resource groups (ERGs)—voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace—help aid in personal and career development and create a safe space where employees can bring their whole selves to the table. Allies may also be invited to join an ERG to support colleagues.
In contrast, Fatou also believes there are opportunities for the industry to continue to increase its DE&I efforts and offered the below tips for entry-level, seasoned professionals and employers to take action.
How to Take DE&I Action as an Entry-Level Employee, Seasoned Pro & Employer
- Don’t trend on a safety line with DE&I messaging – “When it comes to making imprints during nationally celebrated heritage months like Black History Month or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, many companies trend on a safety line,” says Barry. “They think ‘this messaging feels safe’ or ‘we won’t get canceled for saying this,’ but I feel as PR professionals we must not be afraid to tell different stories or expose harsh truths.”
- Honor DE&I commitments at work and in your community – “We need to ask ourselves, ‘how am I working toward ensuring diverse professionals are being treated equally and equitably?” and then, “what else could I be doing?” says Barry.
To help PR professionals take the first step to act on their commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion in the communities in which they live and work, PRSA Pittsburgh created its inaugural virtual D&I pledge.
Additionally, Barry urges employers to find ways to connect with external communities that surround their company’s mission statement or investments. For example, if a brand’s mission is to increase accessibility to STEM education to underrepresented groups, the brand should seek out minority-owned non-profits or businesses that share its commitments for potential partnerships.
- Tell the stories and perspectives of the underrepresented and underheard – “One of the things that has always amazed me about PR is that we’re responsible for telling stories,” Barry says. “We have tremendous power as storytellers and changed narratives, change lives. Not only do we advocate on our client’s behalf, but we advocate on the stories that we believe should be told.”
By shedding a light on the authentic stories of underrepresented groups or communicating health, social, political or environmental issues within that community that often go unheard, PR professionals are serving as a force for change and human progress.
- Act on DE&I commitments “25/8” – “Employers should recognize if they only speak on DE&I when an incident or tragedy occurs versus acting on their commitments all the time,” Barry says. “The same dedication and KPI-tracking that us PR pros hold ourselves to for client campaigns should also be applied to how we analyze DE&I progress in our companies.”
Sharing Advice for Young Women and Women of Color in PR
Barry also offered career advice for young women and women of color who are current or emerging PR professionals. Her tips include:
- Master your communication skills – Relationship management is undoubtedly one of the most integral skills to the PR profession. PR professionals must learn to be comfortable with talking and engaging with clients, influencers and the media.
Barry says, “Getting on the phone used to be terrifying for me but being able to carry a conversation and express your personality is extremely helpful in building those personal and professional relationships that can carry you far.”
- Always be open to upskilling yourself – Barry believes PR professionals should lean into their creativity and become multi-faceted. This can be accomplished by pursuing graduate or doctorate level education, completing trainings and courses provided by your employer as well as on platforms such as LinkedIn Learning.
- Voice your concerns and hold employers accountable – “If you’re working for a brand that says they are diverse, equitable and inclusive, but not seeing any action or results, it may be easy to just pack your things and leave, ultimately deciding that workplace is not for you—and that’s okay and perfectly acceptable—but I urge PR pros to first voice your concerns to upper management and hold them accountable.”
Check out the inclusive and empowering PR Girl Manifesto community on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Communications and PR professionals of all identities and seniority levels are encouraged to inquire about joining our Diversity & Inclusion Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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