WASHINGTON — With DEI still very much an industry issue, it is imperative that agencies and clients bolster and align their efforts to support and nurture inclusive teams, industry experts said.

Speaking at the PRovokeGlobal summit in Washington Tuesday, participants in a panel  titled "Working Together to Build Inclusive Teams for the Modern Era of PR” delved into the critical topic of creating an inclusive workforce within the public relations industry.

Natasha O’Dell Archer, Golin’s global head of DE&I, PR Council president Kim Sample and Gabriella Lunceford, a Howard University senior who participated in Golin’s 2023 PRep School fellowship for future Black leaders, participated in the conversation.

The panelists emphasized that building inclusive teams is not only a priority but also a fundamental requirement for success in the modern era of public relations, and discussed why the industry is lagging in doing that — and what it can do to improve.

Archer emphasized the importance of creating safe spaces for marginalized populations. "If we create safe spaces for those on the margins, everyone feels like they belong," Archer said. She also discussed Golin's PRep School program, which focuses on developing future Black leaders and recruits from HBCUs and members of dynamic service organizations within the Divine Nine.

Lunceford, a member of the inaugural PRep School class (and a future Golin employee), highlighted the unique approach of the program, stating, "I've been seeing the push in PR a lot for diversity, but to me, it seemed like, 'we offer diverse spaces, but you have to find us.'" Prep School brought the opportunities to her and provided valuable experiences that have clarified her career path, she said.

Lunceford also encouraged agencies to look beyond traditional PR majors when recruiting. "I don't think people know how much agencies have to offer," she said, stressing the importance of making potential employees aware of their options.

Sample addressed the need for financial investment and commitment from the top leadership to build inclusive teams. She highlighted the importance of accountability and goal setting in the middle management ranks, noting that "our industry is going to lose if we don't get super focused and aggressive on this."

Sample also lamented the industry's apparent regression in diversification, emphasizing that it's an opportunity for agencies to make their own businesses and clients' businesses stronger.

The discussion highlighted the efforts made by agencies to recruit talent from HBCUs and develop long-term relationships with the universities as part of the process. Still, Sample pointed out that the industry needs to address the promotion and retention problem more proactively.

Sample recognized the challenges of onboarding and suggested the need for more training for managers to create inclusive environments. She emphasized that these conversations about underrepresented talent and accountability are essential.

The panel session underlined the importance of aligning with clients to build diverse workforces, emphasizing that "Better Together," a set of guidelines issued by the PR Council in October, can play a pivotal role in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion within the PR industry. These guidelines, crafted by cross-agency DEI leaders, offer best practices for the RFP and pitch process, staffing plans, recruiting, and onboarding, aiming to unify efforts and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.