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D S Simon Media (@DSSimon) CEO Doug Simon (@DSSimonDoug) speaks with Mike Fernandez (@Cogit8), Chair of the Global Corporate and Financial Practice for Burson-Marsteller (@B_M), about the need to look past diversity studies and put diversification into practice in the PR field.

In the keynote address at the PRSA 2016 International Conference, Chair of the Global Corporate and Financial Practice for Burson-Marsteller Mike Fernandez demanded action be taken to improve diversity in the public relations industry. He sat down with Doug Simon, CEO of D S Simon Media, to discuss the need for greater diversity in the public relations world and why embracing diversity is essential to moving your business forward. They also go over how studies have proven a diverse workplace is a key to success, the role cultural awareness plays in the diversification process, and why pursuing multiculturalism is an absolute must for companies searching for talent that understand the growing and changing marketplace.

Mike Fernandez Bio

Burson-Marsteller Website

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Doug Simon: Hi, I’m Doug Simon of DS Simon Media, here at the PRSA International Conference. My guest Mike Fernandez, Chair of the Global Corporate and Financial Practice for Burson-Marsteller. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mike Fernandez: Oh, glad to be here.

Doug: You just gave a very electrifying speech to the crowd about, it’s time to move past studies and take action on diversity in PR and communications.

Mike: Yeah, I think we’re at the point that diversity really requires a bias for action by all of our agencies, by all of our companies. We’ve seen studies that continue to talk about the importance of diversity, the value of diversity, economically and otherwise, in terms of decision making and other things. But our firms and our companies still aren’t quite there in terms of where the general population is.

Doug: You told a poignant story of how a similar action can be perceived differently based on a person with a diverse background, and how we really have to leverage the diversity of their experiences. What do leaders at these communications firms need to be doing to both find these right people, and give them a track to keep them, and a path to success?

Mike: Yeah, fundamentally, as you’re looking at hiring qualified talent for the future, there are a number of things that you’re going with, if you want people who are curious, you want people who are smart, people who communicate well. But I think we also have to push ourselves to make sure that we’re bringing in people that have a diverse set of experiences, and that they’ve actually lived lives that, maybe, are different than our own. And are living lives that are more akin to the younger generation and in the populations that are growing.

Doug: We’re going to turn now to the important question, of what leadership in organizations can do to really speed the process to allow diverse candidates to grow and succeed.

Mike: Yeah, I think one of the things they have to do, is they need to ask more of themselves when they’re interviewing prospective talent. It can’t just be, let’s go down the checklist, they really have to say, you know what, I need more talent that understands the growing and changing marketplace that’s out there. And I think that’s the only way that we’ll sort of move things apace. Yes, over time, the demographics change, and you’ve got 44.2 percent of all millennials being of a racial or ethnic background. But the fact is, is that inside our agencies, inside corporate America at the CCO level, we don’t see that kind of diversity. And in order to push it, I think you need people taking action.

Doug: Now it also seems so obvious, based on the facts, all the studies that a diverse workplace generates better results, the Google experience, and others. Why is it so slow to catch on?

Mike: That’s a question for the ages. I think we’re always slow to pick up on exactly what’s happening when we’re in the midst of it, and we recognize it when we look back in the rear-view mirror. But the reality is that we’ve seen studies. There’s Ronald Burt, who teaches at the University of Chicago’s business school, has had studies for several years talking about how people with diverse backgrounds and experiences actually produce better and more creative ideas. We’ve seen research within the PR field from professors like Rochelle Ford, talking about the challenges of diverse individuals working inside agencies and companies. If they don’t see, in leadership positions, people who look like themselves, they get disappointed, and they start to pull back. We want to change that, and I think we can.

Doug: Finally, for diverse people in the communications field, and I don’t want to make this sound insensitive, but I think you have to address some tough issues. Do they need to be able to accept behavior that might not be fair, or might be perceived differently by them and try and move through it, or are there other ways that they can move ahead?

Mike: So I think there’s always this careful balance. I mean, I think the challenges– I think more of corporate America, and more of the globe, needs to hear and sort of focus their attentions on what’s happening in the changing marketplace, and hiring diverse talent will allow them to do that better. At the same time, as a diverse individual in the industry, I think what you have to do is you have to look for your openings, and you have to think about how do I bring my whole self to the work that I do, so that it better informs how we reach certain audiences, how we better communicate with them, how we can be better understood by them.

Doug: And those are tips that apply to anyone working in any industry. Thanks so much for sharing your time with us.

Mike: Thank you very much, appreciate it.