Embracing a DEI Recipe for Progress
By Valarie De La Garza
As Latinx Heritage Month closes, I am reflecting on what representation, inclusion and diversity really mean. When my son was little, his summer camp held a “Cultural Pride Day,” encouraging the campers to dress in attire that represented their heritage. As I brainstormed ideas with him — a Dîa de los Muertos t-shirt, a Mexico soccer jersey or an old mariachi sombrero we had in the house — my nine-year-old Santos said assertively, “I’m going to wear my favorite clothes like I do everyday because no matter how I dress I am still Mexican.” Out of the mouth of babes.
Pageantry will never replace authenticity.
At Fenton, an inclusive talent pool is not window dressing; diversity and inclusion are embedded in our DNA and are a must have in order for our business to be effective. “Purpose” is not something reserved for some of our clients. The point of our existence at Fenton is to activate communications to support the purpose for every single client. Our mission-driven clients are the nonprofits, advocates, coalitions, foundations and corporations advancing social change in the world. We partner with them everyday to preserve democracy, fight for reproductive rights, protect our environment and advance a more racially equitable and just society. The breadth and depth of this work encompasses some of the most consequential issues of our time and squarely impacts communities of color and peoples of diverse gender, abilities and socioeconomic backgrounds.
We would be remiss — irresponsible — if our staff did not reflect this reality.
We are proud that 55 percent of our entire agency talent pool identify as people of color and 75 percent identify as women. But what’s perhaps most notable, and unheard of in the public relations industry, is that our firm’s diversity actually increases with seniority. Our agency is 60 percent diverse when you consider vice presidents and above.
As the first woman and person of color to serve as CEO for Fenton in its 40-year history, I am not the “only,” which can be a lonely place for leaders of color. Throughout my 30-year career, I have been called “Maria” in the workplace unwittingly by colleagues and even clients. Imagine the look of horror on many faces after I’ve called people out with “all of us Latinas do not look alike.” Today, I serve in a C-suite alongside a leadership team that is 62 percent diverse. It is empowering to not be alone.
According to PR Week, the percentage of people of color in the C-suite at public relations firms is only at 13 percent nationally and white people make up 76 percent in the field overall. Our data demonstrates that Fenton is more than just far ahead of the national standard for diversity in the PR industry — we are leading the field.
Fenton arrived here because of the commitment, focus and intentionality we bring to our human resources. We prioritized inclusivity years ago and have been steadfast in recruitment and retention efforts to ensure our staff truly reflect our diverse society. Consider the following recipe for progress:
- DEI is not the responsibility of one person. Rather than hiring a solitary Chief Diversity Officer, our agency has a highly engaged DEI Task Force that includes staff members at all levels who freely share ideas and have a stake in the success of our collective efforts. We also believe in keeping ourselves honest and on-track. We are highly transparent in reporting our diversity data to our staff on a monthly basis.
- Promote action, not words. Our task force created a DEI roadmap to transform goals into tangible practices such as eliminating the requirement of a college degree on our job descriptions to encourage candidates with nontraditional backgrounds.
- Be open to nontraditional paths. Speaking of nontraditional backgrounds, we also actively recruit job candidates who do not come from agencies. We widen our talent pool through staff who come with a richness of experiences in the nonprofit, philanthropic and government sectors. We know it isn’t always an easy transition to our industry, but we have found it is worth it.
- Recruit with passion and purpose. Our Director of Recruitment has worked diligently for years to bring incredible talent from all cultures, backgrounds and experiences. She has a knack for helping candidates not only understand the ins and outs of the job duties, but truly appreciate the firm’s values of empathy, respect, support and fairness. Her purposeful recruitment is also centered on building excitement among candidates about the life-changing work we do at the firm. Candidates who take the job often tell us this focused recruitment approach was crucial in their decision to come aboard.
- Foster a welcoming environment for staff. In addition to a welcoming and caring recruitment process, our five Employee Resource Groups are budget-supported and create a safe and inviting space for our team members who identify as women, Black, Asian American and Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA, and Latinx; these spaces are vital for uplifting inclusivity and helping us learn from each other.
- Diversity attracts diversity. Our new employees frequently cite our diversity as one of the key drivers for joining the firm. They are inspired to see people who literally speak their language, share in their traditions and understand their lived experiences at the senior level. They can see a trajectory for women and people of color to move up within the firm through the CEO level.
- Compensate well and do so equitably. We often hear from job candidates the challenges of communications being a low paying industry compared to other choices, particularly at the beginning of a career. We are proud to offer a comprehensive compensation package that includes a competitive salary at the top of the market, a matching 401K plan, new business commission for staff at all levels and a profit sharing program. We were ahead of the curve and embraced salary band transparency because it is the right thing to do. We evaluate our salary bands to ensure equity and make adjustments as needed and we are committed to this practice on an ongoing basis.
Moreover, we know DEI is more than measuring race, ethnicity and gender. We recently announced our plan to take steps to increase accessibility in our work for every single department in 2023. This underscores our commitment to increasing access to people with functional disabilities which will include the active implementation of practices in creative development, digital work, and how we approach our writing in our overall HR hiring efforts. This important, often overlooked, area was championed by one of our staff members. She brought this issue to the attention of our DEI task force and we are transforming this commitment to practice.
We simply believe that we can’t make the shoes if we haven’t walked in them.
As Fenton celebrates our 40th year in business, we know we are not perfect — but rather than strive for perfection, we strive for impact. Our north star is doing what is right, even when it is not easy. We urge our peers in the industry to do the same.
Valarie De La Garza is the first woman and person of color to serve as CEO of Fenton. You can read our DEI statement here.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more about Fenton, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.