Elevating EDI at the CPRS National Conference

Over 200 Public Relations and Communications professionals attended the 2023 Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) ELEVATE national conference in Whistler, British Columbia, from June 4th to 6th. Participants found equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) sessions were helpful reminders to weave the EDI values in everything they do. CPRS Vancouver interviewed three attendees about their impressions on how EDI was represented at the conference. 

Naseam Ahmadi, senior consultant at Earnscliffe Strategy and new CPRS Vancouver board member, felt that there were multiple sessions on the topic and saw a concerted effort from the national EDI task force to take steps to include these principles in the work they are doing. 

In looking at the PR industry, she said, “there’s a decent increase in diversity at more junior levels in the profession, but this diversity appears to wane in leadership levels from management and executive suites to boards.”

She believes that there needs to be more intentional mentorship of people from diverse backgrounds to help build leadership skills for the next generation of leaders. 

There was some talk of taking your own seat at the table, however there are many barriers for people who have experienced exclusion and oppression to naturally have the instincts to do this. Ahmadi believes looking at the idea of “taking your own seat at the table” from a trauma-informed lens will help since it involves making space to welcome and include people who have historically been excluded. 

Ahmadi adds that inclusive leadership will also bring value to an organization and can help with employee engagement and overall culture. “Inclusive leadership involves recognizing and rewarding different styles of leadership,” she said. “Conventionally, traits such as comfort with conflict, outspokenness, assertion, and competition are encouraged for budding leaders. But what does inclusive leadership look like? Is there space to respect, promote and value leaders who lead with empathy, consensus-building, and collaboration?” 

Meaningful Relationships

Ben Borne, Founder, President, and Chief Operating Officer of Symmetry Public Relations, explored the idea “that culture is not a monolith” during the conference. Ben and Darian Kovacs from Jelly Academy co-presented a session called BRAND: Building Meaningful Relationships. During this session, they wanted the audience to develop a cursory understanding of IDEA when engaging with Indigenous communities. He uses the acronym IDEA which stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility when it comes to communications and interacting with his target audience and relaying those key messages since it’s vital in helping develop a high-level understanding of what is being communicated.  Borne wanted the audience to be introspective and start to break down and build an understanding of their own culture and western worldviews. 

”True Indigenous engagement is doing business to culture – not business to business,” he said. “I also wanted them to think about the value of respect, especially towards building respectful relationships with indigenous communities”. 

Borne wanted the audience to feel connected and develop a high-level of understanding of what it means to build a nation-to-nation relationship and embrace vulnerability when it comes to work. He feels indigenous engagement and communication is unique since it requires communicators to think outside the box and more abstractly;  it provides a broader perspective, an openness,  and an understanding of how subjective experience informs organizational relationships. Once these relationships are respected, communicators can work toward meeting mutually beneficial outcomes. 

He said, “to get there, the work is rooted in the two-way symmetrical communication model– that the communicator is a boundary spanner between organizations and its publics, with relationship building at the heart of it all.” 

Authentic Representation

Stephanie Fung, Public Relations Director at UpHouse, a marketing and PR agency in Winnipeg, spoke about workplace inclusivity with a presentation titled “Inclusivity makes Workplaces, Brands and Communications Better”. In the session, she wanted the audience to have a solid understanding of inclusivity, how authentic representation begins, and that it needs to be in all levels of the organization. She used the experience at UpHouse to illustrate that messages connect when they represent real people from all demographics. 

To share those authentic stories, representation needs to be involved at every level; for example, if you have a photoshoot, representation shouldn't be just in front of the camera, it needs to be behind it, too.

“We want to ensure representation is involved in every step of the creative process and deliver the most authentic message or product possible,” said Fung.

She believes that organizations and companies are putting a lot of emphasis on EDI, but more work must be done around developing authentic messages. 

“This won't happen overnight. For those working in organizations that do not have a lot of internal representation, we recommend contracting outside sources who identify with the different demographics, and they must be paid for their time and expertise. Not only will we, as communicators, continue to learn from different perspectives, it will make us question and confront our biases, making us better communicators in the long run.” 

Fung highlighted that audiences know when communications are being inauthentic, when there isn’t representation at the table, and stressed that this will only harm our brands and communications going forward. 

“Most communicators don't see themselves as part of human resources, but it takes all of us to make noise so we can see the changes we need in our organizations to ensure we're working towards a more equitable world,” she said. 

For more of an understanding and to explore equity, diversity and inclusion further, check out this framework established and developed by the Government of Canada from the communications security establishment around these principles. 

Author: Dan Chalcraft