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  • Writer's pictureBen Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Carmella Glover of Diversity Action Alliance

Equity is one of the three areas of focus for RENEWPR (along with energy and environment). We define the term as meaning that “everyone has the opportunities, resources and support they need to participate fully in society.” For us, that seems like common sense – and it is, or it should be.

Equity is often considered along with diversity, inclusion and other concepts as part of a broader conversation about the actions necessary to ensure full engagement of everyone in society. Given the ongoing national conversation about all of these ideas, there’s no better time than the present to talk with a leader in this field about what it all means and what we might do to help advance it.

Carmella Glover is president of the Diversity Action Alliance (DAA) and a leader in advancing the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion in the public relations industry [Full Disclosure: I’m a member of the DAA Advisory Council representing The Change Agencies]. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to include her in the Common Sense Colloquy series.

Carmella began her career at Johnson and Johnson and worked at Procter and Gamble after that before moving to L’Oréal where, while working in cross-functional teams, she gained experience in all facets of consumer public relations serving as Senior Manager for new product launches. In 2019, she left L’Oréal to serve as Executive Director of The PRSA Foundation. From there, she was hired to serve as Executive Director and then President of the DAA.

Carmella is a compelling public speaker with a full schedule of speaking engagements year-round. As the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Page Society, she also has the opportunity to engage key industry representatives in an ongoing conversation about how the public relations industry can – and must – change to reflect the society it communicates about.

I’ve known Carmella for several years and have always been impressed by her ability to be both clear and direct about the many challenges before us and positive and affirming about doing the work. It’s a remarkable combination and another reason for her success in what is, admittedly, a challenging job.

My thanks to Carmella for sharing her wisdom with us – and you.

Q: What is the mission of the Diversity Action Alliance? How are you leveraging it to fully engage in addressing the many challenges in our industry and in society at large?

A: The DAA mission is to unite the world’s Public Relations and Communications leaders around the urgent need to improve DEI in our profession. Our primary focus is on communicators of color, although we are sensitive to and inclusive of the many intersections and other aspects of DEI. By collecting demographic data from our nearly 300 signatories, we hold the industry accountable for measurably accelerating the diversity in our industry’s ranks.

Our role as communicators is vital to society at large. We are brand reputation builders, stakeholder whisperers, and strategic counselors to the world’s leaders. The work that we do is impactful. By changing the hearts, minds, and behaviors within the industry, we can impact society. Today’s consumers, investors, and employees all trust business more than any other entity to drive change, and businesses have the resources to affect change.

The DAA provides resources, education, community, and empowerment to our signatories. Our daily advocacy serves as a reminder in the sea of day-to-day priorities at agencies and in communications organizations. We have expert led webinars, a multicultural networking fair coming in September, and a vast network of signatories who are committed to positive change.

Q: What does the public relations industry need to do to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive? What grade would you give the industry today?

A: The diversity piece is just the beginning. Bringing in talent from a variety of backgrounds looks great on paper and is the quickest win, but the real work comes in retaining that talent by identifying and dismantling inequitable practices and policies that are barriers for marginalized professionals within our organizations. When companies begin to do the DEI work, once we’ve admitted there is an issue and started on the path to rectify it, the next challenge is sustaining those efforts and investing adequate resources to drive a return and results. Diversity, equity and inclusion must be a part of an organization’s Strategic Plan with measurable goals throughout and experts to support the execution.

Communicators also need to become DEI experts because challenges around DEI are closely tied to crisis, reputation, and effective messaging crafting. Yes, even though we are not DEI or HR professionals, it needs to be a part of our wheelhouse and how we operate. We have investor relations and crisis as specialties, for example. DEI needs to be added to the list as a communications core competency through training and application.

As of today, I give our industry a C for effort, and a C+ for progress. I know it sounds harsh, but this is a group project; everyone must pull their weight. We can do much better, and we can do it with a greater sense of urgency. The DAA’s community openly shares best practices as well as what is not effective. We’re in this together for a cause that is far greater than our individual company DEI metrics.

Q: You have a background in consumer products, healthcare and beauty. What communications lessons did you learn in this field that you have applied to your work on DEI?

A: The best communications lesson that I’ve applied to DEI is that proactive communication is the best mitigation tool; reactive communications no matter how well articulated, could very well be too late. I learned early on as a supply chain leader partnering with the in-house PR and communications team, that anticipating issues and communicating up front saves the brand from appearing defensive or deceptive.

When a highly anticipated new cream or serum was delayed or had issues, the communications team turned complicated technical issues into relatable, reasonable circumstances for our stakeholders. They communicated quickly and transparently to all the right people, even if we were still working it out. It encouraged action-oriented teamwork and solutions internally and set expectations externally with enough time to pivot.

When it comes to DEI, a common conundrum is that we want to communicate, but we haven’t done anything yet. Reasonable stakeholders will appreciate understanding where you are and what will be done to change it. A communicated action plan gets in front of both what you can and can’t anticipate. Waiting until an issue becomes public or a crisis, even if subsequently handled appropriately, already has an initial impression that smacks of irresponsibility.

That’s a good segue into the next best lesson. The evergreen communications and story behind the brand that builds engagement with and loyalty from our publics is important. In times of crisis, especially a DEI crisis, how you’ve connected with each of your stakeholder groups in the past, and the position that you’ve assumed on particular topics can make or break your brand.

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?

A: Communicators are the conscience of our companies. The first person I ever heard say this was Linda Rutherford at Southwest Airlines.

Communications, done right, is a necessary business function comprised of strategic advisors whose counsel is informed, respected and vital to the sustainability of our organizations. We are wordsmiths, and storytellers but words without actions or juxtaposed with contrary actions lose their meaning and therefore nullify the power of communication. We must not only shape the messages but influence and ensure the supporting actions behind them.

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?

A: Not much different than a good investigative journalist, when we get to the meat of the story, it takes immense courage to tell the truth to our internal leaders and our external stakeholders.

Exceptional communications have always and will always shape history, for better or for worse. We feel behind the scenes as communicators but are the messenger whose names are attached to that history. To exist tomorrow, we need to be on the right side of history today.

I’m a big fan of word origins, and the origin of the word history comes from the Greek words histor (“learned, wise man”) and historia (finding out, narrative). To rid our profession of the “spin doctor” narrative for good, we must become learned and wise through research, data, immersion, business savvy and insatiable curiosity.



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