The PR Council’s annual Critical Issues Forum focused on the Modern Workforce, fitting because talent is the industry’s number one issue. The event speakers walk through the world and see opportunities and problems differently than most of us in this industry. As a result, the audience heard some new ideas about solving old problems – how do we truly engage a younger generation in their work? How do we ensure new moms return to work? How do we have important conversations about race and other differences? But they also left thinking about some new employee populations that may not have been on our recruitment radar. More importantly, the event inspired attendees to fully embrace different approaches to problem-solving shaped by different life experiences.

Here’s a recap of what you missed:


Lillian Rivera, Executive Director, Hetrick-Martin Institute
Becoming an Advocate for the Unseen, Unrepresented

We each need to inventory all of the places where we have privilege: white skin, education, language, ability, age, financial. For us to be cognizant of what that means in the world, we first need to take inventory of what type of privilege we have in the world.

We need to observe so we can learn about the lives of others – their spiritual, emotional labor of life and not just looking through the lens of whatever privilege you’re afforded.

How do we take our privilege and leverage it to be able to do things as leaders? We need to create safe spaces for people. No one should question someone’s right to be there. Provide access to all the facilities. Talk to all people with differences and include them in decision-making.

It’s not enough to make accommodations for people. We must celebrate what everyone brings to the table because they’re beautiful human beings who all bring something of value. The private sector has such possibility to create systems of care, so people can bring all of their selves to work. Let all people come to the workplace with all they are and all they can be because the bottom line is that it will be better for everybody.


Amelie Karam, Generational Speaker
Working as One: Everyone Has a Story 

Millennials are wreaking havoc on the workplace. You know who we are and how you feel about us. How can you attract and retain millennials? It’s about appealing to them as people. It boils down to four things:

Care about people’s stories — Everybody has a story. Every single person. Millennials want to be something other than their age and more than their role. People can mature instantly. It doesn’t always require age. With 9/11 we saw that life has no guarantees. This shaped how we think, how we act, and how we view our work-life.  We want a strong work-life balance.

A strong culture — How do you create culture? Be deliberate. It must be well defined, properly executed and open to change. A good culture gives the work meaning and purpose.

Affirmation — Millennials want affirmation, publicly and in private. They’ll take it any way you want to give it. GenXers and Boomers complain about having to affirm Millennials for doing their job.  Guess what? When someone receives affirmation for doing the job he or she is expected to do, it feels nice? Just do it.

Collaborative decision-making — We all have different experiences. 100% of millennials want  to be asked and heard. Set up a reverse mentoring program. Also, generational representatives should be present in every decision that gets made. Demonstrate that you are seeing and hearing people and using their gifts.


Sena Pottackal, Diversity Intern, NBC Universal
Badass Blind Girl Doing Good Through PR

One in 4 people will experience a disability in her lifetime but having a disability shouldn’t prevent someone from having an amazing career. I became legally blind when I was 15. My blindness may prevent me from seeing what’s in front of me, but it has given me a valuable attribute that benefits companies: Grit.

Grit is passion and perseverance for long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your plan day in and day out. Working through life is a marathon and not a sprint. People with disability are forged by diversity and grit.

When you hire a person with different abilities, you get innovation, increased productivity and a better workplace, but the existing social and digital infrastructure is not built for those with disabilities. How can companies be more welcoming to people with disabilities? I advise using the 4 e’s:

Employ: Meet us where we are. If you’re looking to recruit an intern, reach out to universities with a strong disability department. Make your website screen-reader accessible. Offer an email and phone number for people to apply to.

Enable: Create a formal accommodation policy and work with employees to create an accessible work environment. Offer adaptive tools. Have conversations with people with disabilities.

Engage: Have conversations with all members of your workplace. Conversation helps generate empathy and inspiration for those who have a disability.

Empower: Invest in mentorship, individual development plans, training, and inclusive leadership. Consider investing the time to complete a benchmarking tool called the Disability Equality Index to help you understand your company’s strengths and areas for growth.


Claude Silver
A New Way to Think About Mental Health

My title is Chief Heart Officer. I was in advertising and studying to be a psychotherapist. I had a happy and successful career working on global brands, but I always wanted to stay true to my mission is being of service – of joyful service.

The workplace is humans; they are the central operating system of every single culture. Having something greater than ourselves is what life is about., Let’s get heart and humanity back into the workplace. When we empower people, whom feel like they don’t belong or those who just feel different, we get to experience joy and create joy.

Gary Vaynerchuk set a goal of building the greatest human organization of all time. How? By infusing empathy throughout the entire organization. That was my charge. I’m a feeler – I have high EQ. I spend time with each and every employee – in 15-minute increments all day long — to make sure they’re seen and heard. I am there to hold space and direct them. I am creating curriculum so they can inspire and champion others. This truly contributes to Vayner’s bottom and top line.

My motto is kindness before KPIs. We are wired to belong. Millennials — but essentially all of us — feel that the relationships we make are critical to the success of a company.

We changed the way we hire from culture fit to skill-set fit and culture addition. Diversity of thinking conjugates things differently, We want uniqueness. A culture of bravery and belonging requires us to create a safe place for everyone to bring their whole self and best self to work. It’s everyone’s job to create the vibe. True belonging does not require you to change the way you are but to be the way you are.

Psychological and physical safety is the most important thing we can do to create positive workplaces. Embrace people so they feel like they matter. Help people find their guiding light or mission. Then you’ll get hustle and hard work; they will want to contribute.  The way you see people is how you treat them and the way you treat them is how they become.


Craig Buchholz, CCO, P&G and Teneshia Jackson-Warner, founder, CEO and Chief Creative Officer, EGAMI Group
From “The Talk” to Walking the Walk

Both P&G and Egami Group are truly passionate . Collectively we yearn for the connection points between purpose and profession,. When you find a connection point with a brand that shares these values, that’s when magic happens. The work that we’re doing is leaving a global imprint.  We’re having an impact on corporate citizenship and the goal of eliminating bias.  What could be more fulfilling?

P&G appreciates the importance of understanding insights connected to human culture. The beauty of how these two companies work together is the beauty of Egami’s insights.

The Talk is something that happens in the homes of African Americans when parents prepare their children for the first time they’re going to experience racial bias. We wanted to create a campaign that would challenge America to have a talk about “the talk.” Each person of color has their own personal story about the talk and they need to be shared and talked about.

The employee part of this is critical; we need to understand the reality of our organizations through our employees’ eyes.  Any company is a microcosm of the world at large. What we do as leaders of large corporations doesn’t always align with an individual’s point of view. We’re very open to hearing from employees and stakeholders. Sometimes we meet in the middle and sometimes we agree to disagree.

Everybody has to be at the table. P&G also taps into employee resource groups, and it was based on their input that we created The Look. While the Talk was about the relationship between the mother and the child, The Look was about microaggressions that befall black men everywhere they go.

The Look is the next chapter and is a testament to our willingness to lean in and have these challenging conversations. The feedback we heard was, “Yes, these conversations about bias between mother and child are going on but what about black men?

If you’re doing purpose work, make sure you know what your risk threshold is — determine where you will draw the line — in advance. After the launch of The Talk, senior people in the company said, “We’re starting to get close to this line.”  We had to talk about whether we should pull the campaign. Should we re-cut it? Should we leave it alone? The fact that we left it alone speaks to the values of the company.

Some advice for others considering purpose-driven work:

  • Make sure your organization has a heart for the cause
  • Know that the consumer is expecting it.
  • Be willing to bring to the table external perspective. Invite other perspectives, be willing to listen and be willing to take tough their feedback
  • Create the safe spaces for your own teams internally and know that sometimes that safe space takes different forms
  • Follow the space and the dynamism; things that come across your desk that might have been fine six months ago, aren’t now. This is an evolving and dynamic space so if you stand still, you’re in trouble
  • Understand your agency values and what they stand for. Being willing to pick up the phone and call your client. If you believe in your recommendations, don’t take no as the answer.


Stacey Delo, CEO, Apres
Retention Strategies During the Messy Middle —When Career & Parenting Collide

Businesses have work to do to recruit, retain and return women to the workforce, and that’s where my firm specializes. The mother penalty is real. Mothers are held to higher punctuality standards at work, at day care, and at schools, They still do the bulk of childcare and work at home.

Things need to change but what can you do at your companies before the nature of capitalism changes? My new book, Your Turn, showcases the research, the thought process that women go through, and the things companies need to do to retain them.

A key question for moms is, “Can I afford to leave my job?” It’s a granular question but they are looking at the present and the future – “What are my prospects at this company?” What can a company do to demonstrate the rewards of staying? Offer generous paid leave. It’s a major driver of retention. But beyond offering it, make sure you create a culture where people FEEL like they CAN take their paid leave. You want people to come back from leave rested and recovered because they will come back and do more for you.

Who is going to take care of the kids? This is a huge question and companies should boost childcare options. The research shows that onsite childcare dramatically increases retention.

Consider creating employee groups comprised of new and experienced moms. It’s a great way to share best practices, tips and tricks, to help parents manage what is a very heavy mental load.  This also demonstrates engagement and messages that this population is very important to your success as a business.

Creating an environment of trust is critical. Train management to probe what success means to every single employee. It requires a dialogue and then individual coaching for success.  Women need mid-level career mentorship, development and training, and learnings. Key is to ask your employees what they’re looking for and rethink your strategy and plans.


Vincent Bragg, Founder and CEO, ConCreates
Criminality is Just Creativity Without Opportunity

I was convicted for running a drug trafficking business and spent 5 years in federal prison. Our prisons are filled with hustle and that “hustle” is all about getting the basic things you need to live.  It’s takes creativity. During my incarceration, I would regularly brainstorm marketing ideas with a company founder. It sparked something in me. Here, in a federal prison, I found other people who thought like me. How can we harness and repurpose this talent?

I think a lot about how to re-integrate men and women back into the society. I want us to look at the way we view and treat people with a criminal history, when we read resumes, when we go to recruit talent. People with convictions are dying for a second chance. Imagine the loyalty they will have to your companies?

People need real opportunities when they come out of prison. I ran a $20 million drug business.  I’m not going to work at Walmart. That’s not using my potential. I have a different potential. How do we begin to look at someone’s potential and understand that the lack of access, of opportunity, is the issue?

How do we start to think about creativity differently? There are 3.2 million people behind bars. One-third of the population has a criminal history. I feel honored and blessed to champion this cause. First off, hire us. We want to sit at the table. Bank robbers are strategists. Tattoo artists are designers. Poets are copyrighters. How do we help these people hone their skill set? How do we help them reintegrate? How do we treat them like human beings?

When we get people with convictions re-purposed into a productive workplace environment, we all win. They consume your products in the prison, before they were in prison and certainly after they’ve been in it. And that’s just the start of the benefits.


Chris Edwards
It Takes Balls to Get Some

I grew  up working in advertising as the boss’s daughter. I didn’t know what I was doing but I came out to my grandmother when I was five. “I’m not a girl, I’m a boy.” When she insisted that I was not a boy, I responded, “Well, I’m gonna be!”

Every night I would pray that somehow my body would change, and people would realize that I’m really a boy. Unfortunately, my body betrayed me during puberty. I was stuck in a body that I hated, now more than ever, and became deeply depressed.

I decided to go to college, party for four years, and then kill myself. When you get to the point in life where you don’t feel like you have a future, you can either choose to end it or change it. I chose to change it. I said to my supportive and loving family, “This is my identity. This is who I am every second of every day. If I must go on living my life as a girl, then I don’t want to go on living.

They supported me and that feeling of finally not being alone was what got me through this. Therapy was also critical. My original plan was to move away and go through this in private, but my therapist pushed me to stay and do this with people who would support me.

I decided to take the branding and marketing principles that I had been practicing and apply them to a communication plan for me. My first step was to tell me story to the executive board at my agency.

How would I control the message for the 500 employees? Easy: Brand evangelism or word of mouth. At Arnold, our goal was to turn consumers into brand evangelists. I chose 15 friends who were charged with telling everyone else. I unleashed them right after my evening meeting with the executive board.

It took all the strength I had to go into work the next morning. The first person walked to my door with tears in his eyes to tell me that what I was doing was the most courageous thing he ever heard. The support of the office was overwhelming. Most people just treated me the way they used to, which is all I wanted. My team of evangelists had shared my story in a sensitive way and had my back.

It was a long journey. Over a five-year period, I had 22 procedures – all while I was managing the largest account in the business. But that wasn’t the hardest part. The most painful part was the 25 years leading up to the surgery.

My number one goal was to not to let the transition define me and I knew that all successful rebranding campaigns take time. I don’t consider myself transgender anymore. The word transition means going from one place to the other. I’m here.

PR Council Critical Issues Forum