Belonging: Building an inclusive profession

Speech given by Avril Lee MCIPR, Head of Health Europe, Zeno Group (Chair of CIPR Diversity & Inclusion Network)

Today we celebrate 75 years of the CIPR: it’s great to see our organisation reach this milestone, and the role the CIPR has played in our industry’s success. 

The CIPR is known for leading our profession; of bringing to the fore opportunities and threats and helping us face these new tests and navigate them successfully.  Now is the time to be a leader again – for we must change who we are. 

2023 marks a moment in time.  Not a time to prepare for our twilight years but a time to reinvigorate ourselves. 

To fully commit to a new era in PR: to define the next generation of PR Professionals and reach our full potential in a World in which Communications is so influential, for better or worse. 

It is a moment of reinvention. A moment that must become a movement; a commitment to making our community truly diverse. 

We have seen change on this scale before. Looking at the IPR Newsletter featuring our 50th anniversary. I saw an industry I didn’t recognise; a world I was not part of. 

But, in the last 25 years we have reshaped who the CIPR is, as our profession has too.  We have seen women join and rise to the top of our discipline.

To become leaders in all aspects of our industry from in-house to agency, from private to public sector, to lead comms in every area. And we’re almost paid equally, almost!  

Hopefully all of us here today see the value women have brought.  See how we work, and how the work we do has brought huge benefits and successes.

Just as we acknowledge how far we have come and what we have achieved, we must now recognise that critical change is needed to become the right organisation for our future. 
Looking back to when I joined this industry – I realised from my first day that not only did the people make the job, but that the people I met didn’t reflect my experience of London and of Londoners. Of what I had seen at school, university and on my street.  

I felt that I was the odd one out.  The one from an immigrant family, one of the few from a working-class background – and the only one from an ethnically diverse group. We didn’t reflect modern Britain. 

So, what should the next 25 years bring, who should we be and what should we stand for in 2048? 
How can we help create a profession that reflects a new mindset and show the way for the industry on diversity?
Indeed, how can we make it more likely that we will reach our centenary? 

I’d like to think that we will look like the communities we serve; a modern, multi-cultural open industry.

A communications community that first and foremost embraces talented people - regardless of a person’s background, their accent, their sex, if they live with a disability, who they love and if they have family, or not…and so on.

A cultural mindset that individuals are unique.
A recognition and understanding that difference is universal and affects all people, and all people differently. 
There should be space for all, opportunities for all. 

By embracing difference we will be stronger, more creative, more informed, and smarter. We will be a community of diverse representation, and thought. 
A community, I chose that word with intent. 

We must build a cohesive community that supports its members and their values - and celebrates shared interests as well as differences.

It will be sustained by its culture, and that culture must be inclusive.   
Often said, diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance. 
Inclusion, or better, belonging. 

A sense of belonging, of being accepted for who you are, and welcomed.  
In professional terms – seeing, feeling, knowing that you fit in.

Critical to us growing an authentic culture of belonging is to enable a true meritocracy in which anyone with talent and work ethic can achieve success – can become a decision maker, a leader, and a role model for others.

Inclusive culture isn’t defined by HR slides, another diversity talk or celebratory cake days. 
It is the unsaid ‘norms. The unregulated day-to-day behaviours, language, shared beliefs, and practices. All set and endorsed by leaders.   

True inclusion will be the result of senior leaders taking ownership for this reinvention.  
Inclusive leaders who embrace a new order, embrace being challenged, and understand that they have a lot to learn, and a lot they can do. 

They must focus on belonging, equity, and access to make inclusion second nature.
To build careers not jobs.  

To feel you belong AND stay because you belong. 
A profession in touch, in tune and in business. 

Now we don’t live or work in isolation and we all appreciate that this remains a challenge for Society, as well as the PR industry and the CIPR. We certainly can’t change without industry and societal change.
We all have a way to go.

But the World is changing, and the new professional workplace is under construction. After the murder of George Floyd, excuses won’t wash.  The spotlight is on us all to address the fairness gap. 

Now is the time to embrace this change and welcome it. 
To reform one institution at a time. 

We need to set a new course globally. We have made a start, but we are only at the beginning.   
Reinventing who we are and how we relate to the World will have many benefits. 

But you won’t hear me talking about the business case, ethically we should feel no need to justify treating people fairly.

The only question is - do we want our profession to thrive, to be re-energised, to grow and reflect modern Britain and a globalised World? 
To hear different voices and thoughts, and create new understandings of experiences, audiences, creativity, and approaches. 

Here today at this celebration are the leaders, the cultural trailblazers, industry pioneers, connectors, and those whose voices get heard.  
You are the people who define, and change industry’s and the CIPR’s culture. You can be the inclusive leaders we need. 

Now is the time to be a leader in diversity and to advocate for change. 
The CIPR must lead from the front, and it means change for us inside and out.  

The CIPR can succeed.  It will not be overnight, but it must be soon. 
So, on this important day, we mark a moment in time - of how far we have come.

But belonging is a movement not a moment. 
Hearts and minds, working together for a common cause, to include everyone. 

The beginning of a new incarnation of the CIPR; our time to create a new generation of Communicators and show the way in moving the PR industry forward for all. 

The legacy of our careers must be the creation of a different industry from the one we have lived through, one that powers us to 100 years of the CIPR.

Diversity unites us 
Inclusion is in the interest of us all. 
Let it be your legacy! 

Back to 75th Anniversary page