Diversity and Inclusion. Key buzzwords that consistently enter our workplaces and personal lives, yet the meaning and application often go over our heads. With the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened negative race relations across the country, company’s ability to respond to the current reality relied on their communications teams—and many teams lacked the diverse experience, understanding and representation to speak thoughtfully on the matters.

We had the opportunity to sit down virtually with some of Detroit’s leaders in D&I, PR and communications to address the need for effective D&I strategies in all disciplines of communication and industries. Moderator Orlando Bailey, Engagement Director of BridgeDetroit, was joined by Rana Elmir, Deputy Director, ACLU, Karen Swim, APR, PR Pro, Speaker, Podcaster, Words for Hire, Shaun Wilson, Founder and Managing Partner, Cadence, and Adrienne Woodland, Public Relations Program Consultant, AAA- The Auto Club Group for the discussion.

“If we can’t talk about it, we can’t do anything about it. Diversity has been a checkbox over the years but there’s not been a robust effort to create lasting sustainable change. My hope is that 2020 propels us to a new awakening that this is a problem that can be solved,” said Karen Swim, APR to kick off the discussion answering why communication is important in understanding and addressing diversity.

The discussion continued with the question, “where do you find yourself in this fight?”

“Being an ally is all about co-powerment… This democratizes power, it says we both have inherent power,” said Rana Elmir. “I might have access to influence and what I need to do is give up that platform, give up my space and NOT take up more space and talk about something that’s not mine.”

“We are intimately involved with the PRSA code of ethics and DEI should be incorporated into our ethics… DEI should be owned by companies from the basement to the boardroom. It doesn’t matter if YOUR position doesn’t specifically relate to DEI, everyone has ownership,” said Karen Swim.

Many organizations had to prepare statements in what seems to be overnight, but their communications staff was not equipped, and sometimes resulted in greater backlash. “It takes a lot of work to get your organization prepared to respond…Having representation is the right start. Your organization should be diverse and understanding that diversity makes us all better,” said Adrienne Woodland.

Encouraging your leadership to create more inclusive environments can be daunting and discouraging, but we do have the power– both POC and allies to effectively make the change we want to see. You have to “be intentional and deliberate,” says Shaun Wilson. “Leadership has to take ownership of diversity. The key is that people have to be in the room to ensure that action is taken to make change. You have to be intentional.”

Antonice Strickland, MPS is the senior director of marketing and public relations with Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan and a Detroit PRSA board member/D&I committee member.