Diversity, equity and inclusion are more than just buzzwords. DE&I impacts people’s daily lives, and as the years progress, people’s understanding of the importance of DE&I increases. For instance, Gen Z is well-known for caring about social issues. According to the Pew Research Center, Gen Z are more likely than older generations to believe that the government should do more to solve problems, rather than businesses or individuals. Fifty-nine percent of Gen Z thinks more gender options should be included on forms, and 63%% of Gen Z recognizes discrimination against Black people; all of which are higher percentages than those of other generations.
As members of the Public Relations Student Society of America, we wanted to find out what DE&I meant to PRSSA students and what they expect as they prepare to enter the workforce.
With Gen Z’s focus on social justice, a Monster survey found that an organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion impacts 83% of Gen Z’s decision on where to work. Still, Penn State University PRSSA Chapter President Marlena Fortune notes, “some companies say they integrate DE&I but don’t really follow through on it.” Accepting DE&I is not equivalent to truly supporting it. When Gen Z professionals note they want to see DE&I in their place of work, most mean they want to see organizations that intentionally take actions to support DE&I. So, what does DE&I mean to young professionals, and what aspects of DE&I are they hoping to see?
As diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers once stated, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Further, when the two terms are combined, as Biola University PR student, Kaira Low, states, “DE&I means unity amidst diversity. It means a community of diverse people who mutually support and respect each other despite differences. Just like the hand and the foot are different yet both have valuable functions, you and I are different but are uniquely purposed.”
To different people, DE&I means different things. It’s important to learn to understand the people around you and educate yourself on what makes people feel included, heard, and seen. Milagros Orcoyen, a PR student at Universidad Argentina de la Empresa and VP of Events and Fundraising on the PRSSA National Committee, says she asks herself the following questions throughout her day: “Is everyone feeling okay? Is everyone being treated equally? Is there something I can do to be more inclusive? Are everyone’s opinions being considered equally?”
One simple thing that everyone can do to implement DE&I efforts into their lives is to just ask questions. Another aspect of this is putting yourself out there, educating yourself, surrounding yourself with people who are different from you, and gaining new perspectives.
One study found that when making a business decision, groups composed of diverse individuals do better than individuals up to 87% of the time. Insight Global comments on this finding by stating, “When individuals with diverse backgrounds get to know each other and work together, it is inevitable that more solutions are presented, and decisions are made with better perspective.”
Our PRSSA student survey brought out some of the ways Gen Z professionals are hoping to see DE&I implemented in their places of work. These suggestions include:
- Implementing blind screenings during the hiring process.
- Having a DE&I committee.
- Not allowing DE&I to stop at a committee or campaign but allowing it to flow into culture through establishing norms such as active listening and empathy for different ways of thinking.
- Closed captioning on videos to make them more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing.
- Including more gender options on forms.
- Making space for people to state their pronouns.
- Finding ways to make events accessible to those of lower financial statuses.
- Supporting organizations that focus on DE&I.
- Boycotting organizations that do not support DE&I.
- Supporting workers from minority groups in earning leadership positions.
When organizations implement good DE&I tactics, Gen Z tends to notice. For instance, Valencia College student Tori Sonza said that when she used to work for Sephora, she was impressed that, “the company made a pledge to open up 15% more space for POC & LGBTQ+ brands. It has opened up more availability for a diverse range of foundation shades and more colorful/innovative makeup. More indie makeup brands are now going mainstream because of this pledge. In a world filled with ‘celebrity makeup,’ this change has been very successful for Sephora’s business.”
Scripps PRSSA Chapter President Olivia Strauss also brought up that, “Honda has created an office of DE&I, created task forces and committees, held difficult conversations internally and externally, and boycotted and condemned hate speech on social media platforms. Honda does a great job of authentically exceeding all of the marks when it comes to diversity and inclusion, inside and outside of their workplace.”
A common theme among companies that are truly working to implement DE&I
initiatives is simply creating space. Whether that means holding a wider range of products available at stores to accommodate all different races, creating a committee to help start conversations, or asking questions, taking that first step towards creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment is important. By implementing DE&I, not only can organizations become more desirable places to work but taking those steps can help ensure they will be viewed more favorably in the public eye.
Mckenna Fleming is a senior at Purdue University majoring in public relations with a minor in professional writing with a certificate in entrepreneurship. She is currently serving as PRSSA National’s vice president of professional development.
Nicole Steele is a junior at Biola University majoring in public relations with a double minor in communication studies and Biblical & theological studies. She has worked with multiple organizations, including her school’s student-run firm, Benchmark, Venturing, and more. She is currently serving as PRSSA National’s vice president of brand engagement.