My fellow IABCLA board member Farida Habeeb wrote an excellent piece on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) for the chapter’s blog, and I wanted to reprint it on my website. I’m the group's vice president/president-elect, and I often post chapter related content.
But it’s a courage that, somehow, we expect our Black colleagues to muster every day in the face of still-rampant racism in the workplace and at home. Black people don’t have the luxury of turning away. They experience this outrage on a daily basis. And the world — including the corporate world — is finally waking up to the lived reality of hundreds of years of systemic oppression, from enslavement to Jim Crow to the school-to-prison pipeline.
What we do now, in a historical moment already fractured by a global pandemic, will determine what kind of future we’ll have. It will determine whether the arc of human history really does bend towards justice. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to ending systemic racism in the corporate workplace, there are steps we can take to shift the playing field as communications professionals, particularly internally. Since internal comms has direct contact with HR, we can make our presence felt. And we can push for meaningful change in our hiring practices, now.
But before we do that, it’s important to tackle some myths about how we address the racist elephant in the corporate boardroom.
Myth #1 – We Can Train Our Way out of Racism
A lot has been said about the importance of diversity and inclusion trainings in the workplace, especially around unconscious bias. “Unlearning” our automatic, unintentional, and deeply ingrained biases is supposed to break the corporate cycle of C-Suite executives who are mostly male and entirely white (except for the CDO, who already bears the emotional burden of educating their non-Black colleagues on how to be anti-racist).
As an educator whose expertise is in DE&I, I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit. Not just because education can’t be the only answer to dismantling racist systems of power, but because the facts don’t lie: in 2018, Black professionals held 3.3% of all executive or senior leadership roles. Among Fortune 100 companies, 3% of CEOs are Black. Among Fortune 500 companies, less than 1% of CEOs are Black.
Let that sink in. Black folx don’t even comprise a single percentage point of the CEOs who have the most power, the most privilege, and the most influence on our consumer habits. And a two-day training on implicit bias is supposed to somehow undo this? Nah. Trainings are only a very small part of the solution. And more often than not, they are mere legal cover for not taking any concrete steps to hire and promote diverse talent.
Myth #2 – It’s a Pipeline Problem!
This lie is so often repeated that it’s nauseating, especially in tech circles. It goes something like this: “There aren’t enough candidates who are Black. I mean, you need access to education at the top universities in order to get hired at the top tech firms, and they just don’t have that. We can’t do anything about it because it’s an access problem.”
The problem with this line of reasoning (and the larger metaphor of the pipeline, itself a problematic term borrowed from the white, male-dominated field of engineering) is that it enables companies to redirect and avoid responsibility for hiring diverse talent. It also makes major assumptions about where the best talent lies (“top universities”), and it presumes that anyone’s journey to professional development can be funneled smoothly through a linear pipeline of hard work and determination.
Except for the wealthy and well-connected, this linear pipeline simply isn’t realistic. Pretending otherwise just kicks the can down the road, and it will no longer do. Exceptional Black talent is everywhere; it’s just about knowing where to look. (Hint: HBCUs are a great place to start.)
Myth #3 – Metrics are Colorblind
When discussing why they chose to interview or hire certain candidates, hiring managers will point to work experience, hard skills, and education as the metrics by which they assess job seekers. These allegedly “colorblind” metrics are supposed to determine how effective a job candidate will be in their new role (after all, only the current US president could get away with achieving the highest office in the land without the requisite experience!).
In other words: qualifications become the measure of job performance, and they don’t “see” race.
Except that they totally do. In a study conducted by two professors at the University of Chicago School of Business, fictitious resumes with the exact same work experience, hard skills, and education were sent out with black- and white-sounding names. White names received 50% more callbacks for interviews. Callbacks were also “more responsive” to resume quality for white names than for black names.
Metrics can be racist, because people can be racist. It’s on people—particularly People teams—to change their habits. And that’s precisely where internal comms comes in.
Advocating for Change
More than ever, internal comms and HR are finding that they share the same goal: strong organizational culture. According to Andrew Harvey, Director of Internal Communications at the VMA Group, “The line between internal communications and human resources… is becoming increasingly blurred. Both functions are engaging with the same audience, so it makes sense that the two departments work together. And with both departments constantly seeking a stronger voice in the boardroom, collaboration could be a real game-changer.”
Though internal comms doesn’t usually help manage recruitment and hiring, this area is ripe for collaboration with HR. The employees we communicate with won’t change unless we encourage HR to change their approach to hiring. If culture is the end-goal of internal comms, then HR needs to rely on its IC team to support the recruiting function and attract diverse talent.
And while many companies are in a hiring freeze due to COVID, the foundational work needs to start now. This will require stepping outside our comfort zones. But not without sound business sense behind it.
Tools for Change
In calling on internal comms professionals to push HR for meaningful change, I take inspiration from Stanford Professor of Organizational Behavior, Shelley Correll. Dr. Correll’s work on reducing gender bias in the corporate workplace is predicated on a “small wins” model of change. This model works with managers to implement small but concrete actions that produce results and serve as the building blocks to larger organizational transformation, such as measurable increases in the rate of hiring women.
By taking a small wins approach, we change the playing field steadily, working alongside established hiring processes to move the needle on representation.
And as change management representatives, we can all get on board with that!
Step #1: Describe Positions Broadly in Job Ads
Hiring managers seem to love creating a laundry list of requirements for a job, inadvertently creating a narrow search for a unicorn candidate that, well, simply doesn’t exist. As storytellers and concise communicators, IC can collaborate with HR to craft job descriptions with a broader net. Job ads that focus, in particular, on skills and competencies (rather than focusing on “experience”) will encourage a diverse set of candidates to apply. And the more diverse your candidates, the more your company will avoid group-think, which stifles innovation.
Step #2: Discuss and Align on Criteria Before Evaluating Applicants
When crafting criteria for a job description, be sure to decide what the position requires, so that the goal-posts aren’t unintentionally shifted during the applicant screening process. Is education the most important criterion? Or is it competency in a particular system, platform, or software?
It’s especially important to re-examine criteria from the lens of potential bias: is the job ad placing too much emphasis on nebulous characteristics such as “personality”? (Black women, for example, are often incorrectly perceived as aggressive and angry, leading to negative evaluations of personality.) Always question criteria that don’t directly correlate with performance.
Step #3: Screen Applicants with a Rubric
We all know that the volume of applications for a role is sometimes relentless, and that every HR department is under pressure to hire efficiently. But slowing down by using your internal comms team to create a rubric for evaluation actually results in much more consistently diverse—and productive!—hiring. Standardization leads to fairer outcomes.
As always, use the criteria laid out in the job ad to create your rubric, and avoid “gut instincts” when reviewing applicants. Instincts can be laden with bias, causing your applicant pool to shrink, once again, to solely white and male.
Step #4: Develop a Consistent Interview Process across Candidates
Interview to criteria and ensure that all team members are prepared to ask questions that engage with an applicant’s skill set. Too many interview processes are haphazard, with some team members aggressively questioning candidates of color or interrupting female candidates before they can finish their answers. Consider appointing a facilitator during panel interviews, whose job is to maintain interview standards across candidates, regardless of their race or gender. The more interviews are structured, the less likely they are to be unintentionally biased.
Step #5: Be Alert to Bias in Endorsements
Employee referrals are incredibly powerful in the hiring process—in fact, companies are 4x more likely to hire a candidate who was internally referred. Referrals can be so powerful that they serve as the “tie-breaker” between equally qualified candidates.
But referrals are just as prone to bias as any other mechanism, and we need to be wary of them exerting undue influence in our decision-making. Our social networks often reflect our own backgrounds: our race, socioeconomic status, college alumni affiliation, and more. If a company relies too heavily on employee referrals, they run the risk of hiring the same people, leading to homogeneity instead of diversity.
I get that corporations these days are risk-averse, and that part of what makes hiring such a tricky proposition is that we have a tendency to seek “replicable” results. But it’s time we start taking more risks as communications professionals who have direct contact with the departments that manage our external (PR) and internal brands (HR). We need to speak up and have the courage to challenge the everyday racism in our organizational structures.
Solidarity statements and crisis communications plans carry little weight when our organizations remain overwhelmingly white and male, with little to no representation by BIPOC leadership.
It’s time to do the internal work.
The chapter is now working on diversity and inclusion programming. I will, of course, share details as soon as it becomes available.
(Note: I’m IABCLA's vice president/president-elect, and I often post chapter related content.)
Last week was a busy one for IABCLA! Thank you to everyone who attended the Independent Consultants Happy Hour on June 24 and the Freelancers Roundtable on June 26!
And thank you to our hosts: Bob Finlayson, president of Impact Marketing & Communications, led the happy hour and Jake White of Zaptin Communications headed up the roundtable.
The chapter is now planning more virtual happenings this summer, and details will be posted as soon they become available. Please visit the chapter's website — IABCLA.com — and follow the group on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
(Note: I’m IABCLA's vice president/president-elect, and I often post updates on chapter happenings.)
Note: I wanted to share IABCLA's statement regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m the chapter's vice president/president-elect, and I often post updates from the group to my blog.
On June 24, there’s a happy hour for independent communicators so they can keep their networks strong during lockdown. Learn more.
On June 26, we are holding a lunchtime ZOOM gathering on getting a toehold in the gig economy in order to bring together communicators who are divided by quarantine.
In the past 10 days, IABCLA has focused on how we can be useful in supporting and leading meaningful change by listening and learning and by having conversations that matter.
We want to create programming for LA Communicators that supports antiracism and the
Black Lives Matter movement and inspires the actions that lead to greater equity in our organizations. If you have suggestions or inspirations to share, please email us.
IABCLA Roundtable for Freelancers
Have you thought about freelancing, but aren’t sure where to begin? Do you currently freelance and want to up your game?
Join a small group discussion and talk through the ins and outs of freelancing as a communicator at IABCLA’s Roundtable for Freelancers. The virtual event will be held on Friday, June 26 at 12 p.m. via the chapter’s Zoom.
Jake White, principal consultant of Zaptin Communications, will lead the conversation. He’ll will touch on must know topics for freelance communications professionals, including how to procure a business license, taxes one is required to pay, and the process of setting up a company website.
The event is free, but attendance is limited to the first 12 people who sign up. To do so,
click here. Zoom login information will be provided upon registration.
IABCLA Independent Consultants Happy Hour
Would you like to meet new colleagues and develop your business?
Share ideas and swap stories at IABCLA’s Independent Consultants Happy Hour on Wednesday, June 24 at 5 p.m. via the chapter’s Zoom.
Bob Finlayson, president of Impact Marketing & Communications, will host. Bob has extensive experience in consulting to small businesses and major brands, and he’ll explore such subjects as creating a statement of work, managing workflow, and ensuring payment for services.
Don’t miss this chance to hear how other indies are managing during the pandemic!
To sign up, click here. Zoom login information will be provided upon registration.
(Note: I’m IABCLA's vice president/president-elect, and I often post updates
on chapter happenings.)
Thank you to all who attended the IABC Southern California virtual happy hour on May 14. Members from the organization's Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego chapters met online to share drinks and COMMingle. The event included introductions, announcements, breakouts and, of course, a group photo!
In wake of the pandemic, IABCLA has moved to an all digital format. The chapter will have many more virtual programs in the weeks and months to come. Please stay up to date on happenings by visiting the chapter’s website — IABCLA.com — and by following the group on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
(Note: I’m IABCLA's vice president/president-elect, and I often post updates on chapter happenings.)
IABCLA is hosting a virtual happy hour for Southern California IABC members on Thursday, May 14 at 5 p.m. Pacific time. The chapters of Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego
are invited to bring their drink of choice, add their wildest Zoom background, and COMMingle!
Click here to sign up!
(Note: I’m IABCLA's vice president/president-elect, and I often post updates on chapter happenings.)
Note: Deborah Hudson, my fellow IABCLA board member, wrote the following piece for the chapter blog and I wanted to share. I serve as the group's vice president/president-elect.
From the article, I took a run at the CDC website to find what they had to say about communications emergencies. I found a 460-page manual for a course titled Crisis Emergency and Risk Communication. Published in 2014, the social media section may seem a little dusty, but even the table of contents gives a sense of the thorough and practical guidance available for communicators. There’s something reassuring to know the course was built by people who have seen devastating emergencies and crises before and have field-tested their response.
Some of the things I am taking away can be put on a wallet card:
Four ways people process information during a crisis:
o We simplify messages.
o We hold on to current beliefs.
o We look for additional information and opinions.
o We believe the first message.
The six principles of effective crisis and risk communication:
o Be first.
o Be right.
o Be credible.
o Express empathy.
o Promote action.
o Show respect.
Yes, in many regards it’s basic stuff. But for me that’s the just ticket during these overwhelming times.
Note: I wrote this piece on team building for the IABCLA chapter blog. I serve as the
group’s vice president/president-elect.
“The purpose of a seminar is to take time to step back, to reflect, to get to know each other, to identify problems, priorities, goals, and plans,” he said. “For most of my career, it’s been my job to bring people together, to communicate, to help others collaborate more effectively and help folks reach their potential.”
Ephraim shares his philosophy on the two intertwined components of teamwork:
- Trust: great teams have a foundation of trust. Building trust needs to be an intentional effort and it takes time. It also requires people to be vulnerable with one another, to learn about each other, and come to appreciate one another.
- Structure: good teamwork and collaboration relies on the right process and arrangement. In order to have people work together, you need to have the right system in place in order to produce the best results.
He noted trust is fundamentally about safety. What he’s seen during his career are leaders who miss out on critical information employees possess — on the market, customers, systems the company uses — because workers don’t feel they can share their thoughts openly.
“Trust kills bad ideas, trust drives innovation,” he said. “When it’s a good idea, people will recognize it, and when it’s a bad idea, people will tell you it’s a bad idea — but individuals have to feel safe in order to do that. They need to trust their leaders are good people, their leaders care about them, their opinion matters and it will be respected and heard and thought out.”
How do you build trust? Ephraim explained the key is to first create vulnerability. He makes a point to incorporate into his sessions moments where people reveal who they are. When people do this, they create vulnerability and that vulnerability breeds trust. If, for example, a group was working on a marketing initiative, he might pose the question to each person: “What’s your favorite marketing campaign — and why?” This allows for personal disclosure that ties into larger goals.
“You have to build the right levels of vulnerability into a team building workshop," he said. “When people let their guard down, they start to see the human in there, they start to be more forgiving of each other, they start to be more inquisitive about each other, they start to make connections at a personal level — all of that helps to build trust and helps others work together better."
As far as structure, a classic teamwork exercise Ephraim facilitates during conferences is brainstorming. He noted the most common way to brainstorm — everyone randomly throws out an idea — is not the best way to execute the process. Given power dynamics and different personalities, extroverts and leaders are more likely to speak up than introverts. Also, there’s going to be a certain “herd mentality” where somebody will suggest an idea and others will go along with it. You, therefore, might lose brilliant insights from those who have less hierarchical power.
A better way of brainstorming, he suggests, is to provide Post-it Notes all in the same color, as well as pens with the same shade of ink. Each person adds their ideas to the pieces of paper, and then the team organizes the messages silently and collaboratively. In short order, folks will have collectively built a prioritized list. This approach will yield a rich collection of ideas, and the group will leave with better alignment and a sense of shared ownership because they contributed equally in generating the outcome.
He offers this final thought on team building: “There’s a great saying, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ I think about that a lot — when you’re trying to build a team or get people to work together you have to slow down so folks can build trust, so you can then prepare to do big things and great things over a period of time.”
I'd like to express my appreciation to IABCLA for spotlighting me in their most recent newsletter and on their website — click here to read the piece. The chapter regularly draws attention to its volunteers, and I serve as the group’s vice president/president-elect.
IABCLA has moved its programming online during this uncertain time, and it looks forward to helping communications professionals stay connected and build their careers in the weeks and months ahead.
Please stay up to date on events and activities by visiting the chapter’s website — IABCLA.com — and by following the group on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
I'm Eli Natinsky and I'm a communicator. This blog explores my work and professional interests. I also delve into other topics, including media, marketing, pop culture, and technology.