Inclusion Is The Foundation For Diversity

Small Business Canada

Rohini Mukherji, VP Integrated Communications at APEX Public Relations

Experienced integrated communications practitioner with a demonstrated track record of leading smart, compelling and strategic 360 campaigns for clients in the B2B and B2C space. Solid expertise building award-winning campaigns that drive bottom-line impact across sectors including financial services, consumer packaged goods, retail, health and wellness, alcohol and travel.

1. You have over 15 years of experience in the communications industry. What would you say has been the biggest change you’ve noticed in the communications industry throughout the years?

It’s hard to narrow down to one change but the big shift that has made my communications career exciting is the evolving role of PR into integrated communications. When I started my career, there were separate lanes for creative, media buying, PR, digital, social, and experiential agencies with minimal crossover. Within the marketing lanes, PR has gone from getting budget leftover after the glossy ad production and paid media to spend, to rightfully earning a seat at the table. In fact, I have been lucky enough to be part of several PR-driven campaigns in the past decade and I think this is going to be the norm in the future.

The other major shift I’ve seen and talked to several clients about is a growing understanding of the power of PR to shape a brand’s essence in the minds of its audience – consumers, other businesses, or various levels of government. PR as a discipline has demonstrated its ability to rise above a marketing tactic and drive predictable business outcomes. That could be website visits, social media shares, downloads of a white paper, event attendees, or webinar sign-ups. We build strategic programming so that it ladders up to what matters most to our clients.

What hasn’t changed yet, however, is the makeup of the industry. The communications industry has had a historic lack of diversity, especially in the top ranks. That is starting to change at the entry-level, but much work needs to be done within the industry to diversify leadership. I am hopeful that we are now at a point where the commitment to address this systemic issue is strong and that change is coming – even if it is slow.

2. In your professional opinion, what is the biggest challenge that many companies are facing when it comes to communicating their business culture with their employees?

One of the biggest obstacles to rallying a workforce around corporate culture is relying on one-way communication. Corporate culture has to be bought into by all levels of an organization in order to stick. If it is only communicated top-down, then there’s only so far it can go. Some organizations approach corporate culture as something that needs to be endorsed and sponsored by the executive level, which is absolutely true. However, in order for corporate culture to resonate across an organization, leadership teams should be looking for internal influences at all levels to amplify and reflect on what that corporate culture means to each employee. As well, if the corporate culture is all talk and no follow through on the commitments of the organization, it stands the risk of alienating the workforce.

3. How important do you believe it is for organizations to incorporate inclusion within their company culture?
It’s 2020 and if an organization is not addressing inclusion or having a serious discussion about incorporating inclusion within their company culture, then they are going to find themselves out of touch very quickly. This movement has been a long time coming, but the events of this year, especially in the US, have resulted in a global resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has since evolved into a renewed push around diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Several organizations have started to find ways to at least start to think about how inclusion fits into their company culture. Now is the time to graduate from talking about it to finding some concrete ways to action change within our organizations and industries. This is going to be a journey and nobody is going to nail it in their first go; however, it is critical that organizations start to embrace the need for change.

The journey of introspection has inevitably involved some level of discomfort, but this is an important step towards sustained change. No business can call itself innovation-driven when it’s recruiting, training, and professional development practices are behind the times.  The benefits of inclusivity are well known – healthier and happier workplaces, lower turnover, better creativity, and bigger bottom lines.

4. What can you tell us about your role as the chair of the marketing committee of the Canadian Public Relations Society Foundation? What are some of your responsibilities and how is it impacting the PR industry within Canada?

The CPRS Foundation’s responsibility is to advance the profession and practice of public relations, which we do by granting scholarships, awards, and bursaries, sponsoring lectures, undertaking advocacy, and funding original research. It is a Canadian registered charitable foundation. As the chair of the marketing committee, I am particularly excited about our most recently announced initiative – a scholarship in partnership with Indspire,  a national Indigenous registered charity, a first of its kind in Canada. The scholarship will be available nation-wide to Indigenous students enrolled in a public relations/communications degree or diploma program at a recognized university or community college in Canada.

This scholarship represents a long overdue, significant step to demonstrate our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and engagement across our profession. It also presents a tangible way for leaders in the industry to show their support for diversifying the industry and addressing the under-representation of BIPOC individuals in the communications industry.

5. You have a strong reputation for leading successful campaigns throughout your professional career. What are some of the strategies you use that have contributed to your success?

Thank you for saying that. I believe strongly that a lack of curiosity is a dealbreaker for a successful career in communications. If you are not naturally interested in how things work, how companies make money, or how a brand’s values come to life, this profession may just not be for you. One of the ways in which I have grown my ability to build compelling and profitable strategies on behalf of clients is by investing time into getting to know my clients’ business. Doing that – by asking questions, doing the homework, and looking outside the category for inspiration – has given me and my teams the vantage point to bring the best strategic thinking to the table.

My other long-standing belief is to keep an open mind about the brands you partner with. There are a lot of brands out there with an edge or cool factor, but honestly, some of the most rewarding work I’ve done so far has been in relatively traditional or even “boring” categories. Brands that aren’t pressured to be cool in everything they do are often more open to pushing the envelope and punching above their weight. Launching a CSR initiative for RSA Insurance, a long-standing client of APEX PR, that elevated a traditional annual-cheque-donation charity partnership into a bonafide, multi-award-winning road safety advocacy movement has been one of my career highlights.

6. On a final note, what are some of the initiatives that you believe Canadian organizations and corporations should implement to solve the diversity issue?

Now, this is a topic I could discuss endlessly. The first step towards change is that we need to reframe diversity and inclusion. Diversity is a fact – often driven by macroeconomics and the multicultural nature of the Canadian population today. The harder work lies in creating inclusive and equitable workplaces.

Inclusion is the foundation for diversity, The problem with obsessing about diversity is that it can quickly translate into a tactic and result in short-term change. On the other hand, if you as a business leader committed to taking on the hard work around inclusion, then diversity will follow.

A few ways organizations can start to create inclusive workplaces include, but are not limited to:

  • Be open to structural change. Diversity and Inclusion need to underscore your operational plans. This pandemic has taught us that overnight structural change is possible to work when the need arises.
  • Get buy-in at all levels. You can’t change corporate culture just at the top of the organization chart. Everyone across the organization has a role to play.
  • Revisit the “chemistry/culture fit.” The final step of agency or personnel interviews often involves looking for sameness – this needs to go. Stop building cookie-cutter teams; instead, look for complementary skills. There’s strength in diversity.
  • Track your progress. Set clear inclusion goals and build them into annual corporate benchmarks as well as individual employee performance reviews.
  • Align your internal and external communications. If you’re rallying to build an inclusive workplace, bring your external partners along the journey. They will want to know and you could inspire them to consider change within their own workplaces.
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