Last night, I was part of a panel discussing career progression for BAME PR practitioners. The event was organised by the Taylor Bennett Foundation who do excellent work on diversity and, right at the outset, I’d encourage you to help fund their work.
The discussion was wide ranging but centred on some core areas.
A double whammy of Imposter syndrome
It came up towards the end, but I’ll start with imposter syndrome because it was probably the most personal of all the issues raised. Often, when we talk about diversity or careers in general, we discuss things in quite a broad way and there’s a risk that we fail to fully appreciate that we’re really talking about people’s lives.
Someone asked a question about the challenges of not easily fitting in at work and, by choosing a career that’s not traditional within your community, not necessarily fitting in at home either. There is no simple way to address this but the feeling that you don’t really belong is almost universal. If you read a few autobiographies, whether they’re by sportspeople, business people or politicians, you’ll see countless references to fears of not fitting in at work, or with lifelong friends or at home.
The only solid advice on tackling this is to talk to people and let them know how you feel.
This issue cropped up repeatedly. It’s great that we’re getting more BAME candidates into the industry but are we mainly getting the middle class ones? PR is a pretty middle class profession anyway, so where’s the change going to come from? The idea was mooted that we should be more aggressive in pursuing greater social diversity, for example, instead of applauding those who pay interns, perhaps we should call out those who do not. Naming and shaming isn’t something that fills me with joy, but I think it’s a good idea in this instance.
There were questions about whether recruiters and those for whom they recruit are susceptible to unconscious bias. Of course, we all are in some area or another but perhaps the hiring process needs addressing. Are terms like “good cultural fit” being interpreted as “people like me”? It’s a thorny issue but one that can be addressed by employers explicitly demanding more diverse shortlists.
Mentoring and support
The importance of mentoring, building networks (of friendship and support) and helping others was emphasised. It’s important to note that your mentor needn’t be the most senior person you know. If you’re an account executive, an account director who you admire could be a great mentor and really help you focus on progressing your career.
Having a network doesn’t mean you have to start networking. It’s the support element that’s important. You should have friends in the industry who you help and who can help you with advice. This is also goes a long way to tackling imposter syndrome.
Good advice for all
You’ll recognise that much of the above is not rocket science nor particularly specific to BAME PR practitioners. It is just good advice.