On April 27, 2022, in honour of Sikh Heritage Month, CPRS Vancouver invited three ground-breaking South Asian PR professionals to share their stories and unique perspectives. The panel discussion was moderated by journalist and CBC reporter Bal Brach.
The evening’s presenters were:
Karen Dosanjh, VP of Marketing and Communications of OSI Digital
Rena Heer, Senior Account Director at Edelman Vancouver
Rashpal Rai, APR, CPRS member, and Senior Communications Professional with Vancouver Coastal Health
Karen Dosanjh is known to be one of the first women of Indian descent to practice public relations in Canada.
Dosanjh’s book, titled Untold Stories: The South Asian Pioneer Experience in B.C., is a collection of stories from 32 pioneer families in Canada.
When Dosanjh started out in the late nineties, not only was she a woman working in tech, but she was also a minority woman and one who didn't have a tech background.
For Dosanjh, there is a significant parallel with her book: “I found when I was interviewing some of the elders that they taught us the best way to avoid discrimination is to work 10% to 50% harder than anyone else in the room. If you do that, you will make yourself invaluable, and that's when acceptance will come.“
As a seasoned storyteller with over 20 years of journalism and communications experience, including over a decade at CTV, the next presenter, Rena Heer, brought an insider's perspective on the media field to the evening’s discussion.
Heer provided an insightful overview of her journey from high tech into broadcast journalism and eventually into public relations in 2016. Over time, the difference between tokenism, diversity, and actual inclusion became clear to Heer: “Diversity is being invited to the party, but true inclusion is being asked to dance, or something like that!”
The evening’s presentations concluded with Rashpal Rai, who is known to be the first turbaned Sikh to work in the public relations and communications industry in Canada in 1999, and the first to serve on both the CPRS Vancouver and CPRS National Boards. He touched on the importance of being authentic to himself, his values, and his heritage to mark his own path in progressing up to senior-level roles:
“Being a turbaned Sikh was a very important part of my identity, and I had been dealing with the preconceptions that came with it all my life, so I was prepared to take on whatever challenges that would come my way. There was no way that I was going to change who I was just to fit in or conform to what people thought I or a public relations practitioner should look like,” said Rai.
Rai, who currently leads the CPRS National Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), also discussed the 2021 national survey results, which were meant to establish a baseline for future work.
For more information about the survey, click here.
What were the key “takeaways” from this eye-opening evening?
Employers are making progress in building inclusive workplaces.
Representation matters, and is good for everyone.