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Diversity & Inclusion; Fundamental to PR & Marketing in Canada

Introducing SOAR (Strategic Objectives Alliance for Representation) — our agency expression of how we’re championing positive change

By Judy Lewis | Aug 25 2020

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Canada is a country that prides itself on multi-culturalism, diversity, and inclusion, and yet we have come to humbly recognize that racism and insensitivity exists everywhere. Canada is not immune from this scourge and blight on our national reputation. As Canada’s most award-winning communications firm, we have become well known for our creative PR and Marketing campaigns which have advanced social justice and human rights.

At Strategic Objectives we feel a social, corporate, and personal responsibility to join our voices with those across the country and around the world that have said enough is enough! We, as professional communicators, have an incredible opportunity to use our proven-effective public relations and digital communications techniques to speak out, stand up against racial injustice, and create a platform for ALL voices.

Diversity is our strength. Nearly one in five people – 22.3% of Canadians – identify themselves as a visible minority. That number is substantially higher in the metropolitan Greater Toronto Area (GTA), where over half of the population (51.5%) are a visible minority. Yet, representation is still far from adequate, and nowhere near equal.

Lack of representation is also the overriding truth in the communications and public relations profession. This year, for the first time in Canada, communicators have rallied together for the common cause of anti-racism and diversity & inclusion.

As agents of change, we recognize the power of communications. Words matter, and words are our business. Increased understanding of racism, unconscious bias and D&I is essential for all those who are responsible for communicating with the public. In order to be effective in reaching Canada’s diverse communities we must listen, engage and explore the issues, priorities, concerns, past experiences and current culture and relevance.

We believe that diversity across all spectrums is imperative to the advancement of societal norms, practices, and values, and as communications professionals, we believe this is important for our agency.

Around the world, public relations is dominated and propelled by women. According to the organization Global Women in PR, (GWPR) based in London England, some two-thirds of all practicing professionals in our industry are women yet the vast majority of senior positions are still held by men, devoid of diversity and colour. Our profession recognizes that women are not the only ones who face inequity and are seriously under-represented in senior positions. And GWPR reporting indicates that the pandemic is having a negative and imbalanced impact on women and racialized communities.

Having worked in media and public relations for close to 40 years, I can say with absolute certainty that PR has the power to change attitudes, perceptions, and minds. The power of influence is immense and only getting stronger as individuals and communities mobilize and come together to spread awareness, implement change, and shape the future. Just a few examples of how communications have led change in attitudes and behaviors include Canadian views on drinking and driving, violence against women, global warming, and even COVID protocols relating to wearing masks and washing hands. We have seen it and experienced it firsthand over decades of social good campaigns in mainstream, digital, and social media.

Why Now?

It is 2020. Now is the right time for professional communicators to make a difference and to use their skills to advance positive lasting change for the better in the areas of anti-racism and greater representation of BIPOC in Canada, and in particular in our profession.

All of us – regardless of background or experiences, hold some form of unconscious bias, whether we care to admit it or not. At Strategic Objectives, we have decided to start our agency journey with dialogue, awareness building, and education to address this. With the greatest respect, dignity and sensitivity, we are having inspirational and difficult conversations that are opening minds and changing perceptions for the better.

Every day we prove how words have the power to make a difference, change minds and move the needle on perspectives and points of views. We also believe that action must follow! And we have the power to truly make a difference.

Public Relations Industry and Diversity

In Canada, a small and mighty band of the leading PR and communications agencies have come together to champion the rights and opportunities for others and guide our profession and our clients seamlessly into the future.

As Chair of CCPRF, Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms, I am honoured to help bring our members, which include many of Canada’s best public relations and communications firms, together in solidarity to improve our industry track record, and become signatory agencies to a formal Anti-Racism Commitment from Canada’s Public Relations Firms. It calls for greater attention and actions to eradicate racism and inequality both within our profession and in our work with clients, stakeholders, and society. As a founding agency of CCPRF, we believe that as a collective we can make a meaningful difference in our profession. By working together with the leaders and CEOs of other PR agencies, we are on a course of transformation of the PR industry to becoming more diverse and inclusive.

The six key areas of the Commitment are;

  • Leadership
  • Recruitment
  • Training & development
  • Client work, content and partnerships
  • Social Investment and philanthropy
  • Accountability

In last week’s Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) panel on the ‘Role of Public Relations in the BLM movement, I spoke about how CCPRF and each signatory agency will be tracking change so that CCPRF will be able to set and measure clear benchmarks and report as an industry association on key metrics such as representation and pay equity at all levels.The virtual session, which looked at how communicators can take the lead in critical organizational culture change, attracted more than sixty CPRS members and friends. It was moderated by Gail Strachan, a Cultural Strategist specializing in Organization Design and Employee Experience with Accenture and the Chair of Professional Development, Inclusion & Equity, CPRS Toronto. Panelists also included Sara Goldvine, VP Communications for BC Housing, which serves many of the most marginalized communities, including homeless and Indigenous people; Chuck Wallington PhD and EVP & Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Cone Health (USA) who has recently completed his doctorate which focusses on Black men and their advancement to Senior Leadership, and Sharlyn Carrington, with extensive background in strategic communications with the Ontario government and now founder of ContentEvents, who has conducted similar research in Canada looking at the advancement of women of colour.

SOAR: Rising. Inspiring. Getting Things Done

As a female-founded and led organization, with a successful track record of more than 35 years, we understand what it is like to experience inequity and bias. We have never walked away from our responsibility to break down barriers for women, and we won’t stop now as social justice and giving voice to the disenfranchised is a vital role of great communicators. Our team has taken this to heart. Expression of our purpose and our values is part of our DNA. As a progressive agency that embraces diversity and inclusion, we wanted to put our words into action. As a result, our team integrated the overarching values of our agency into the creation of SOAR (Strategic Objectives Alliance for Representation). SOAR is an expression of our core values of Respect, Trust, and Equality.

SOAR was conceived by our team and is led by our Senior Account Manager Riya Dhaliwal and a committee. It provides our SO team with the resources, tools, and support they need to continue to grow, learn, evolve, and enhance the future of our team, our agency, and our community.

Three pillars support our initiative for a more equitable society, and representation of people including:

  • Education & Resources
  • Action
  • Corporate Culture & Policies

Examples of how SOAR comes to life within the agency include:

  • Every week we provide educational resources including information about events, books, movies, articles, experiences, webinars and more that can help in advancing understanding.
  • The agency provides each team member four paid hours per month to dedicate to listening, learning, dialogue and experience.
  • We host all-company discussions and SOAR surveys that keep everyone engaged. The more we learn, the better we are able to activate.

  • We advocate and speak about anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion with our clients.
  • Through case study speaking engagements we are demonstrating the power of PR in raising awareness, changing minds, and inspiring action.
  • We have created actionable clauses in contracts with influencers and spokespeople to ensure our commitment to D&I is reflected in all aspects of our work.
  • We are setting benchmarks that ladder up to the CCPRF strategic pillars.
  • We recently reviewed suppliers and partners and are continuing with those that are aligned to our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion and fighting against racism of any kind.
  • There is diversity in our partners and suppliers. This supports diversity of thought and diversity through BIPOC businesses.
  • We are committed to creating and sustaining a workplace where differences are valued, and everyone can be themselves.
  • We believe our social media channels and content should reflect our diversity and commitment and can help advance engagement with the topic of diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism.

Our History

As an agency, social justice is embedded in our history. Over the years, Strategic Objectives has supported and continues to support countless organizations and vital causes with our clients and our partners.

We have a strong tradition of standing up for issues and applying all the creative power of public relations and content creation to make people care and to take action. We partner with our clients to bring more purpose to their campaigns. We have worked on numerous ground-breaking campaigns with The Body Shop to bring awareness for violence against women and we successfully achieved legislative change to help stop sex trafficking for women and youth. In our work with organizations and charities such as Food Banks Canada, Children Believe, PLAN Canada, United Way, UNICEF, The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, we have developed communications programs to support the advancement of the understanding of difficult issues. These range from food scarcity in our own communities to maternal health, providing children in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities with the opportunity to dream fearlessly through access to education, to ensuring that it is understood that women’s rights are human rights so that young girls and women can enjoy a safe and secure life, free from violence. Sustainability is also a significant priority to many of our clients and our initiatives in this area are resulting in real positive change.

Now, we are continuing our commitment to education, learning, awareness, and inspiring positive change through our voice and actions.

Looking Forward

We feel it is imperative that our workplaces, communications and conversations be inclusive and representative. We feel it is the responsibility of all of us to do our part now, to secure a future that is inclusive and equal to all people regardless of their race, colour, gender identity, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation.

Why now?

  1. We must do what is right
  2. Our ultimate objective is to provide the best service, and this allows us to be better advisors for our clients
  3. There is an overwhelming interest from our staff, clients and partners to make a difference with this very important issue

Canada is recognized as one of the most diverse and inclusive countries in the world, and yet it is not free of the issues that people are facing everywhere. We cannot be complacent, regardless of how well we do as a country.

If the last six months of COVID has given us anything, is the opportunity to rally together, and hone-in to emphasize our purpose and values to create positive change.

We are reasserting our commitment to do more, and create positive, lasting impact. We want our clients, the public and all our stakeholders to know that we are committed, qualified, and advocates of programs that are inclusive and reflective of Canada in all its diversity. We feel our approach can help maximize their impact, enhance their reputation and trust, and lead to greater consumer engagement and success.

Moving ahead, we believe that brands need to choose a marketing and communications agency with the ability to reach and inspire Canadians with memorable content and messaging that is purposeful, grounded in our diverse reality and will connect and inspire positive action, whether that relates to brand equity, sales or reputation. Strategic Objectives is a PR agency that understands how to take your brand and organization to the next level. We are deeply committed and involved in this space and topic and have the creativity and talent to conceive programs that will change minds and advance your organization. Contact us here if you want to chat about how we can help your brand successfully navigate through this important topic.

About the Author

Judy Lewis is the co-founder of Strategic Objectives, Canada’s most award-winning PR Agency.

Judy provides senior counsel to many of the world's leading brands to advance their success in Canada, and has led numerous award-winning, purpose-driven programs that have been instrumental in changing perceptions, public and media understanding, and even inspired legislative change.

Judy is also the Chair of the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms (CCPRF) which recently announced its commitment to Anti-racism and Diversity and Inclusion.

Judy and Strategic Objectives are internationally renowned for its campaigns that make a difference, and for fighting for those who need a voice. It is the only Canadian agency to ever receive the United Nations Grand Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Relations.

Judy is the recipient of both the Queen’s Diamond and Golden Jubilee Medals for Outstanding Contributions to Canada and the Communications Industry. She has been recognized with CPRS Lifetime Membership.

An eternal optimist and community builder, Judy is the volunteer Communications Strategist for The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking and the Professional Women Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) and serves on non-profit boards and on the Centennial College Communications Program Advisory Committee.

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