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There’s something about Mary…

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A friend of mine asked me (via Instagram) for advice about setting up a diversity initiative and I gave her my four-step approach:

Just over twelve months ago I set up a little website and an initiative aimed at promoting ethnic diversity in PR and communications.

I had spent a good chunk of my career going to industry events with all white panels, reading industry publications written by white journalists and bloggers all quoting my white peers and watching all white judges decide which was the comms team or campaign of the year (all very strange in a diverse city like London).

It was mildly irritating but my attitude for a long time was “meh”.

Then something happened: diversity became fashionable – yay! – and a lot of people wanted to talk about how weirdly homogenous our sector is and how diversity is a good thing.

That’s great, right? Well, yes-ish.

Yes, great people were – and are – discussing diversity but weird how few black, Asian and minority ethnic professionals were part of the debate.

In comparison, everywhere I looked Women in PR were providing speakers for diversity events and being given a seat on the diversity table.

So, I became the person that would call up a publication and say “hey, how come you haven’t included a BME in your power list?” and ask people on Twitter “why are you doing a diversity event without BME representation”.

As you can imagine, I pissed a few people off. I get it, race stuff is a little uncomfortable for some people to discuss and perhaps even more uncomfortable to hear from someone who is black.

Of course, raising it means I had the odd “chip on your shoulder” comment (FYI, if I do, I’m not going to apologise for it because why shouldn’t inequality make me mad?) and of course I had the “angry black woman” label thrown at me too (yawn).

I became slightly obsessed with the issue and I became increasingly determined to do something about it.

One night on the way home in a rage about diversity issues and how the sector was tackling it, I was scrolling through Twitter and what pops up? Yes, another tweet from Women in PR and I had a light bulb moment: I want to do what they do and how they do it – but for BMEs.

What I always loved about Women in PR was how empowering it was. By women for women. I wanted to create something similar. Something that would empower and celebrate BME talent.

So, I did – or have attempted to do – just that.

My little website relaunched just over four weeks ago and it’s had more than 12k hits and my version of the Women in PR/PRWeek Mentoring Scheme (can you guess what it’s called? Answers on the back of a postcard please) has generated what I believe is called “social media buzz”.

It’s been rewarding, exciting and even somewhat moving to see the response (I received more than 100 emails in the two days after the PR Week article dropped.

But it’s also been a lonely, hard venture. I’ve worked on this alone every day for many, many months (except Christmas Day). Lots of evenings and weekends and, of course, I have funded every aspect myself. I am admin assistant, intern, finance manager, project director, web master, CEO and everything in between.

There have been nights when I have cradled a large glass of wine and found myself thinking “what the hell are you doing” and “what were you thinking?”. Times when I have found myself wondering “how on earth are you doing a 16-hour day for something you are not getting paid a penny for?”.

This is a tough space for a black girl to occupy. During the toughest times it has been the support of real, genuine diversity champions that have kept me going.

When I set up the @bmeprpros Twitter account you know who was one of the first people to follow it? To retweet my erratic tweets? To reshare the content?

Mary Whenman.

For me working alone, late at night, with no-one to bounce ideas off and no-one to guide and advise, those little bits of social interaction were everything. Glimmers of light and hope that suggested I was onto something but – more importantly – that someone (and not just a BME) supported the work. Supported the idea that black, Asian and minority ethnic professionals working in PR and comms deserved a voice in the diversity debate.

From the beginning, Mary was one of a handful of people who got it. One of my diversity ride or dies that was tweeting #bmeprpros well before the 12k hits and the PRWeek feature (did I mention it was a double-page spread? ;-)) and for her support I will always be grateful.

As I plan future events, website development and more initiatives, I can’t help thinking about Mary’s wise words of advice: “be disruptive”.

So, don’t like what I do with BME PR Pros? Now you know who to blame.

By Elizabeth Bananuka, PR Consultant and founder of www.bmeprpros.co.uk, @ebananuka

Image Copyright Rob Greig