People with differing abilities are under-represented in the public relations industry and very little seems to be changing despite the significant number of forums, groups and discussions around diversity in PR.
Here, we look at what being a disability confident PR agency actually means and why it’s a positive step for every creative, digital and marketing agency to take.
The Chartered Institute for Public Relations 2015 State of the Profession survey revealed that just 6% of all public relations professionals identify as having a disability or a long-term health condition. That’s significantly lower than the 16% of working age adults who have a disability, according to the government’s Family Resources Survey for 2015/16.
Being a disability confident PR agency is more than a box ticking exercise. To embrace a more diverse workforce we need to investigate and recognise the multiple benefits of hiring people of different abilities.
Why we need frank discussions and action on disability diversity in PR
As our hard-of-hearing director Sara Hawthorn wrote in PR Week almost a year ago; “openly disabled PRs are rarer than likeable politicians”. She adds:
“After almost 10 years in the PR industry I have never knowingly met another PR professional who has any kind of disability – and that needs to change.”
It’s an issue not just affecting PR, of course, but the latest government statistics show disabled people remain significantly less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people. Though much maligned, the government’s Disability Confident scheme encourages businesses to recruit and retain people with disabilities or health-related problems for their skills and talent.
Can we really say this is approach is embraced by the PR profession when a look around our offices and who we hire paints a different picture?
Opening the gates to new entrants
We might not all be able to create change in the higher echelons of the profession, but one thing we can do it alter our actions when it comes to new entrants. Hull-based journalism and digital media student Chelsea Sparke says the key is seeing people for their skills, not their disability. Chelsea has cystic fibrosis and uses a wheelchair but has plenty of skills to offer.
According to Chelsea people with disability offer unique perspectives that can help a company develop a greater depth of understanding. She added:
“It would give the company an advantage as taking people with disabilities on would give them an understanding into the world of disability.”
She added that if disabled people see other people with disabilities in good jobs it would inspire them to make something more of their lives and give them the confidence to move forward.
“I saw someone working at ITV a couple of years ago in an electric wheelchair and it was so inspirational to me. I thought ‘that could be me in a few years’. She hadn’t let the disability define her. She was given a chance by an employer and she took it, which was great to see. You need more of that.”
According to US-based disability consulting company Even Grounds, employing people with disabilities shows that your company upholds equal opportunities for everyone. They say:
“You are also contributing to the elimination of discrimination in employment. Within your company this does a lot in setting a more work-friendly environment for all your employees. Hiring persons with disabilities would also inspire other companies to do the same.”
According to McKinsey and Company’s 2015 report on diversity, widening the net on who we hire will lead to recruiting the best talent. Of course, opening our internal borders and facing up to our individual unconscious biases isn’t as easy as we’d like to think – if it were our agencies and consultancies would already be far more reflective of society.
The indisputable benefits of becoming a disability confident PR agency
People with different life experiences, outlooks and attitudes provide PR agencies with a rich pool from which to draw to create work with real value and impact. Additionally, according to guidance from the Department of Work and Pensions, people with differing abilities generally take fewer days off, take less sick leave and tend to stay in jobs longer than other workers.
By building a reputation though action as a disability confident employer whose workforce is a representation of the different people in our society you’re actively contributing to change attitudes, behaviours and cultures. This will extend to your networks, supply chains, and the communities around you, fostering further change for the better.
As the McKinsey report concludes, diversity matters because we increasingly live in a global world that has become deeply interconnected:
“It should come as no surprise that more diverse companies and institutions are achieving better performance. Given the increasing returns that diversity is expected to bring, it is better to invest now, as winners will pull further ahead and laggards will fall further behind.”