Encountering Diversity, Inclusion and Representation in PR: My Story of Coming Home
“Diversity is the art of thinking differently together.” — Malcolm Forbes
I’ve had conversations about the importance of diversity, inclusion and representation countless times with my wife, family, friends and pretty much anyone willing to talk openly and honestly about it.
In college, I made a concerted effort to extend the reach and impact of these critical conversations by becoming a diversity peer educator. I hosted interactive sessions about topics including diversity and inclusion (D&I), representation and intersectionality. It was a great job that involved meeting people from all over the world and talking about how we might make the world a more equitable place. But it was only recently that I gained a real understanding of how important allyship and representation can be.
The transition from college to the workforce was a shock to my system. There were very few opportunities to have open conversations about the racial climate, and increasingly I found myself in spaces where I was the only person of color. In the four years after college, I dealt with both subtle and overt racism at work. This manifested in constant microaggressions, ostracization from company-sponsored events, and even being called out by a former CEO about the darkness of my skin in front of the whole office. At that point, I felt resigned to working at companies where I continually felt “othered” and less than.
When I started working at Bateman Group, I realized this didn’t need to be the case. As innocuous as it may seem, it was the website that initially drew me to the company. I’d never seen an agency website with not one, not two, but three people of color, one of whom was a man, which was especially surprising given the statistics on men of color in the industry. According to a National Black Public Relations Society study, 62 percent of organizations in the industry have no black male leadership, and 47 percent have no black male communicators at all. While three people of color on a website may not seem all that impressive, for someone who had always been the token, it was everything.
I found that the website was only the tip of the iceberg. Bateman Group is a place where I feel safe discussing D&I, not only concerning the organization but also on a global scale. We have a “Diversity & Inclusion” Slack channel, which is a space to share and discuss pertinent news (like Ellen McGirt’s article about the “whiteness of PR”). In my experience, executives are willing to listen and learn about ways to improve while acknowledging the work they have done in creating an inclusive workplace.
I’ve rediscovered the feeling of being supported, embraced and valued. With the support of my manager and mentor (both women of color), I’ve been able to focus on things I was unable to at previous agencies because I was concerned with blending in. I’ve focused on aspects of PR that I’m passionate about, such as media relations and writing; I’ve challenged myself to try new things; I’ve found my voice.
This newfound confidence is what drove me to request that I attend Lesbians Who Tech, an annual summit that brings together more than 5,000 lesbians, queer women and allies who work in and are passionate about technology. I’d heard about the conference from my wife, who is also a queer woman of color who works in tech, and I was curious about what made this conference so special. Upon arriving the first night with another of my queer colleagues, I was shocked by the sheer number of attendees. I saw so many people of different races and sexual identities that for a minute, I was overwhelmed. For once in my life, I was not the “only” but “one of many.” It was amazing.
Over the course of the three-day weekend, we attended talks by exceptional women such as Sheryl Sandberg, Bozoma St. John and Megan Smith. They discussed the importance of diversity in technology and highlighted their work diversifying an overwhelmingly straight, white and male industry. I was blown away not only by the phenomenal speakers but also by all of the incredible attendees and their compelling stories about overcoming hardships, breaking the glass ceiling and being true to themselves in the workplace.
On the final day of the conference, I attended a Google-hosted mixer for queer women of color. When I walked into the room, I felt something I couldn’t quite place. I had spent a weekend meeting smart, driven, passionate individuals. They could all identify with the longing to be accepted. It was in that moment I realized what that weird feeling was — it was the feeling of coming home.