The PR industry has a problem. We know the statistics. And we’ve talked about it. A lot.

Eighty-three percent of PR employees are white, found a recent study authored by CCNY professor Angela Chitkara. Meanwhile, despite the fact that 71% of PR employees are female, men hold 70% of top industry positions.

The math doesn’t add up, especially when you factor in the profound business advantages of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Center for Talent Innovation has found that publicly traded companies with two-dimensional diversity in leadership (meaning they have both inherent diversity – gender, race, age, etc. – and acquired diversity – cultural fluency, gender sensitivity, cross-functional knowledge, etc.) are 45% more likely to have grown market share in the last 12 months. And other studies have shown that companies with diverse executive teams posted bigger profit margins than their rivals.

We’re in the business of ideas, of creativity, and of storytelling to a wide array of audiences. Accelerating diversity and fostering an inclusive workforce is imperative. And it’s time the leaders in our industry become accountable for driving the change.

Those who manage teams, run projects, or, as in my case, lead agencies influence the direction of their organization’s culture every day. Both overtly and subtly, leaders communicate whether an organization’s values are real guideposts or merely artful slogans. When done right, we can incite change and create dynamic, inclusive workplace cultures.

Tim Ryan, chair of PwC, knows this well. Characterized by Fortune magazine as a “quiet revolutionary,” in 2017 he galvanized an alliance of more than 300 CEOs across a range of industries to join the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion. I’m proud that Michael Roth, the CEO of IPG, Weber Shandwick’s parent company, was among the first round of signatories.

Last year at Weber Shandwick, we formed a Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Leadership Working Group, composed of leaders from every aspect of our firm. (The program earned an Honorable Mention for Best PR Firm Diversity Initiative – $100 million or more in annual revenue.) The group brings together folks from creative, strategy, client leadership, communications, digital, finance, and HR. The implication here is important: DEI is not an HR function. It’s a leadership function.

The group is quickly getting traction on important initiatives. In one year’s time they’ve already evolved and re-introduced our corporate values. They surveyed hundreds of colleagues and used those insights to build a playbook to help our local office DEI councils be more effective. They designed a brief for unconscious bias training that we are now rolling out across the network. It’s a start on pushing DEI accountability beyond the HR department.

But there’s more to be done. Our focus now is on building deeper accountability within our leadership ranks. It starts with goal setting and performance measurement among our senior team. Our objective is to zero in on personal accountability for creating and fostering the kind of inclusive workplace that embeds diverse and different perspectives in our work. We are asking our leaders for real and actionable goals in the areas of mentoring, recruiting, and participating in organizations that advance women and underrepresented minorities in our profession, while fostering an inclusive, self-aware culture.

Our industry is making progress – consider efforts such as The PR Council’s SheQuality Project, TIME’S UP/ADVERTISING and Free the Bid. And some of the advances are driven by agency clients asking the right questions and making explicit their expectations of diversity in teams, such as Verizon AdFellows.

It’s a good start. But progress will be faster when each of us who leads work, teams, departments, firms, offices, and practices put ourselves firmly on the hook.

Andy Polansky is CEO of Weber Shandwick. The agency has won numerous Diversity Distinction in PR Awards, most recently in 2016 for Best PR Firm Diversity Initiative – $100 million or more in annual revenue.

Check back on April 9 for the next column, featuring 2013 winner The BrandLab. And in early May, the PR Council, in partnership with PRWeek, will launch the eighth annual Diversity Distinction in PR Awards.

Originally published on PRWeek. 

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