Lessons Learned: Our EDI Director Reflects on Her First Year (part 1 of 2)

Last year, CPRS Vancouver created an Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) portfolio–with the goal of advancing EDI within the public relations and communications profession in Vancouver, as well as supporting initiatives by the CPRS National Society and National EDI Task Force.

 In this first installment of a two-part interview, CPRS Vancouver’s EDI Director Nevasha Naidoo reflects on some of the challenges, successes, and lessons learned in her first year. 

What are some of the biggest challenges this portfolio has experienced in the past year?

I think the same ones that most people face in any new initiative – time and resources! 

With so many worthy projects in our EDI queue, it can be tough to get initiatives off the ground.  We are also working on where we can provide the most relevant content and initiatives for our members. But even gathering insights on this can be challenging–all these things take time. 

That being said, our board members and volunteers are continually stepping up and moving things along. Our collective goal is to ensure our EDI work benefits not just our members – but the entire sector.

What are the most significant EDI challenges facing the PR industry?

Lack of knowledge and understanding of EDI in general. But also the C-suite not fully understanding why or how to incorporate EDI into overall corporate strategies. Some senior executives think EDI work should be limited to Communications, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), or Human Resources. There can also also be confusion about who owns EDI among these departments. The fact is, it takes a coordinated and consistent effort throughout any organization to advance EDI.

Also, many organizations are failing to “walk the talk.” We’ve all become familiar with terms like virtue-signaling and “diversity washing.” While some companies may have incorporated surface EDI changes (like ensuring the representation of diverse groups in marketing materials for example)--many are failing to implement the structural changes necessary to address issues of inequity.

To be part of this change in our organizations, we must also look at the diversity and representation in the Vancouver PR industry, and within the CPRS. We need to understand what EDI means to our profession, and to CPRS, and we need to have representation through all levels of our PR and communications departments. As some would say, to serve the community, we need to hire the community. When it comes to EDI in our profession, we need to look at not just how and what we communicate, but who is doing the communicating. 

What can PR and Communications professionals do to expand EDI in their organizations?

The embrace of humanity is non-negotiable. But despite our best intentions, we’re all human. The first step is to unpack our own limitations and biases. Take a course, attend events, or follow EDI experts on your social channels. The Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion is a great resource to help enhance EDI skills and knowledge. 

For me, it was helpful to attend events hosted by other CPRS Chapters and CPRS National, as well as the Women in Leadership Foundation. It really helped shape and enhance my knowledge of EDI and accessibility issues.

We can also  “manage up” and bring our ideas and concerns to our bosses. No matter where you are in your career, talk to your leaders about the importance of EDI.  If you’re in a role that has influence on senior executives and/or corporate strategy, create a business case for EDI if one doesn’t exist.  Show your senior people why EDI matters by using other organizations as examples (both those that did it well, and those that didn’t.)

While implementing a successful EDI program needs to start at the top,  its long-term efficacy will be determined by collaborative and coordinated efforts throughout the organization. Communications/PR and Human Resources should work closely with the EDI team to ensure an integrated communication strategy. Collaboratively, these teams should effectively address issues such as microaggression, intersectionality, and unconscious bias in the workplace. 

Also, make sure there are well-defined roles for each department. 

Anything else to add?

PR practitioners are well-positioned to take the lead when it comes to EDI. Communicate with compassion, be emphatic leaders, and don’t be afraid to have those awkward conversations that drive change.

It also takes a village to make EDI a priority! I want to give a shout-out to Amanda Munro (former President of CPRS Vancouver) and Rashpal Rai (Director-At-Large, CPRS Vancouver) for getting this committee started last year. And to the current president, Alexandra Skinner, and our entire board for continuing to support our EDI efforts. 

If you are a member of CPRS and want to get involved in our EDI committee, please reach out. We are always looking for support.  For more information, email [email protected].

About the Author

Nevasha Naidoo is the EDI Director on the CPRS Board of Directors and a CPRS mentor. She is a project manager, communications expert, EDI advocate, and entrepreneur with 23+ years of experience. 

Stay tuned for part two of the interview, where Naidoo will look ahead at CPRS Vancouver’s EDI goals for 2022-23.