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Ethics: The SuperPR of foresight

“Good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation.”
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

“Landmark research” based on the experiences of 2,000 women of colour in the UK revealed the following – that 75% of those surveyed had experienced racism in the workplace, whilst 27% had suffered racial slurs. Their experiences were then compared and contrasted to 1,000 White and White British women in the UK who also took part in the research.

The broken ladders report

The findings were published in 2022 by the Fawcett Society and Runneymede Trust in their ‘Broken Ladders report and are very much relevant in 2024.

Key takeaways include:

·       50% of women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage, and 48% of women of Black African heritage said they’d been criticised for behaviours that other colleagues got away with at work. In comparison, 29% of White British women said they felt this way.

·       43% of women of Black Caribbean heritage, and 41% of women of East Asian and Chinese heritage said that they were the least likely groups to report ‘often’ or ‘always’ feeling comfortable in their workplace culture.

·       Muslim women were significantly more likely to make changes to themselves at work than non-religious women or women of other religions. 53% of Muslim women changed the clothes they wear at work ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a bit’, compared to 37% of Christian women and 32% of non-religious women.

Both the Fawcett Society and Runneymede Trust said their data “highlighted institutional racism, discrimination and entrenched negative workplace cultures that held back women of colour and prevented them from fulfilling their potential”.

Unacceptable deliverables in PR

Given all the data documenting people’s lived experiences of race and ethnicity, coupled with the fact that we live in an age of social media and cancel culture, you’d think that people would be more cautious about the things they do or say.

Yet, how often have you witnessed public figures set fire to their careers through poor decision making or saying culturally insensitive and embarrassing things about race, religion, and ethnicity that could have been avoided with PR intervention?

Impactly, a service which provides diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training to organisations, reported that a lack of DEI can lead to “tone-deaf and unacceptable deliverables” which outside the office walls may be perceived as “insensitive, abusive, or embarrassing”.  

Adding that when people from diverse backgrounds are given the opportunity to offer their insight and remove any output that is considered “tone-deaf”, “unacceptable deliverables” are more likely to get stamped out, before they ever leave the meeting room.

A recent example of an unacceptable deliverable was made by Frank Hester, who thought it was acceptable to make “allegedly” (inserted for legal purposes) racist remarks about Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. This information came to light over Women’s History Month in March.

For those of you who are not from the UK, Hester is a political party donor who “allegedly” assumed his wealth, status, sizeable donations, and White male privilege would grant him the immunity to say what he pleased without consequences.

Diane Abbott vs Hester vs PR

When Hester’s remarks “dominated” a debate during a PMQs, video footage captured Ms Abbott standing up 46 times to catch the speaker’s eye without success.

Out of respect for my peers who are feeling anger and reliving their own traumas right now, Hester’s words will not be repeated. If you want to know what happened, you can read about it here.

Since the PMQs, Hester has now been placed at the centre of a police investigation, his “alleged” remarks have also resulted in Ms Abbott hiring personal security guards to ensure her safety in case there’s any backlash from Hester’s supporters.

As PR people, don’t we have a professional and ethical obligation to step-in and defend DEI in the workplace when it’s under threat? Albeit being the saviour of good PR and stamping out bad PR is easier said than done.

Organisational leaders must be open and willing to listen and act upon the advice given by PR people. In turn, the PR and Comms industry must recognise that a lack of diversity in the profession poses a potential risk to the credibility of the service we deliver. For instance, it can create a blind spot to detecting inappropriate language and ignorance on key issues such as race and ethnicity, immigration, and conflict.

This won’t remedy itself unless the PR industry is prepared to recruit from non-traditional backgrounds. Let the facts speak for themselves. Recent findings by CIPR’s PR Population report revealed that 87% of PR practitioners come from a White ethnic background, 5% are Asian (South Asian/East Asian), 4% are of mixed ethnicity, and 3% are Black.

Why ethics is your SuperPR?

Ethics is our industry’s superpower (or SuperPR as I’d like to put it) which grants us the gift of foresight so recent PR disasters never come to pass, which includes racially abusing Black MPs.

In an article written by Kelly Ehlers of Forbes, The Evolution of PR as we know it, Ehlers wrote: “As PR professionals, we are responsible for making sure the content we share for clients is accurate, equitable and innovative”.

As PR is a profession, it’s governed by a set of ethical principles which aim to build trust, credibility, and promote positive relationships with stakeholders. “Applied ethics ensure transparency, honesty, fairness, and responsibility in all communications and actions” (Agility: PR Solutions). 

FREE CIPR Ethics Hotline

If you’re working in PR and are currently faced with an ethical dilemma, for example, the right thing to do isn’t clear and you don’t know which course of action to take, call the CIPR’s Ethics Hotline.

The service provides confidential advice and support for free. The hotline is open from Monday to Friday from 09:00 until 17:00 (GMT). Call +44 (0)20 7631 6944. For further information on the CIPR’s professional standards and Code of Conduct you can also visit their Professional Standards page


You can also contact the PRCA’s Race and Ethnicity and Equity Board (REEB) which is chaired by Barbara Phillips FPRCA, and vice-chair Emmanuel Ofosu-Appiah MPRCA. REEB exists to create both immediate and long-term proportional racial equity within the PR and communications industry.

Recommended reading

Building a Culture of Inclusivity: Effective internal communication for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion by Priya Bates and Advita Patel.

This book has been written for PR leaders to develop a culture of belonging and a roadmap to drive change.