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Edward Bernays would dig me. Seasoned public relations strategist (10+ years in the game) who has practiced PR in multiple cities: Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago & DC. I'm an observationist and a soon to be card carrying member of the Twitterati. I love comfortable silences, revel in the Seinfeldian absurdities of life and have been described as a habitual line stepper. These are my thoughts...

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Got Diversity?



Lately, there has been much ado about Saturday Night Live’s (SNL) hiring of a new African-American woman cast member (SNL has since hired two new African-American women writers to join her).

The issue started when it was pointed out that SNL did not have a single African-American female cast member in its current lineup and hadn’t had one on the show since 2007. Many have found this omission to be pretty remarkable, especially given that the Daily Show easily found the very funny and African-American Jessica Williams to join its group of diverse correspondents. Williams was hired when the faux cable news program needed to replace the talented Wyatt Cenac (another African-American correspondent) when he decided to leave the show.

Since this observation has become public, SNL has received quite a bit of media coverage and not exactly the good kind. Negative PR associated with perceived hiring practices is never a good look, particularly in an era where we have an African-American President, females are leading fortune 100 companies, and every other TV commercial seems to focus on a group of racially diverse friends enjoying good times with a product.

While SNL is hitting back at the problem with its recent hires, all of this talk of diversity and hiring has got me thinking about the holidays. Every holiday season companies across the nation participate in the time-honored tradition of distributing holiday cards to current and potential clients, as well as other stakeholders. The cards are meant as a subtle way to acknowledge the occasion for celebration while letting people know that they’re being thought about.

Most of the time when holiday cards are distributed, via mail or email in this day and age, they typically contain some politically correct greeting, message and image. But every so often people will receive what I’ll refer to as the “this is our company” holiday card which features either all of a business’s employees (usually smaller companies do this) or everyone in a particular department (larger companies tend to favor this approach).

I actually received a couple of the “this is our company” e-cards this holiday season, as well as in past seasons, and one thing immediately jumped out at me when I opened the card – there were no minorities featured. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words and when the image you want to portray to your customers and stakeholders says, “Yup, no diversity here” or “look our workforce is racially pure,” you may be setting yourself up for unwarranted negative PR.  

The moment I saw the image I no longer focused on the card’s intended purpose or message but rather on the possible reasons why this company didn’t have any African-Americans on staff. Surely there was at least one qualified Black person that could’ve been hired. All of those racially diverse beer commercials couldn’t have been wrong in their reflections of Americana, so what’s the deal with this company?  

At the companies I’ve worked for, this was always something I made sure the organization was conscious of – how it was perceived from a diversity stand point. This included what types of images were to be utilized on the website, in publications and with the marketing materials. We would meticulously evaluate photos and imagery to make sure anything used publically accurately reflected organizational values.

At the moment I’m currently in the market for a new position. As a part of my job search, when I’m evaluating a potential new career home, I always make sure to visit a company’s website to see pictures of the staff, particularly the leadership team and board members. It always gives me something additional to consider when I see an absence of minorities and/or women in leadership or the top positions. When it comes to a company’s image, this can be an overlooked facet of reputation management.

Given the fact that not all of a company’s customers or prospective employees belong to a single race of people, it might be beneficial to show the public that not only does your business cater to all people, but is reflective of all people. And that is just good business.



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