D&I in Public Affairs: What’s missing?

By Samiah Anderson 

Industry reports suggest that progress could be more effective on every front regarding diversity in PR. However, there is a lack of evidence and industry information about the makeup of the Public Affairs (PA) industry. 

When I look around most rooms; I see the need for measurable, impactful, and faster progress on "building inclusive diversity" in the PA profession. The barriers for entry are still very present whereby employers are still providing unpaid internships, hiring people who think similarly and hiring people with established connections in the organisation. 

2020 was considered the defining year for diversity after the global attention paid to George Floyd and the flurry of brands and organisations promising commitments to change diversity in their US and UK workforce. Since then, organisations have published several D&I policies and statements yet are still struggling to manifest measurable gains.

PA professionals are the conduit between business, government and the general public who wish to influence legislation that impacts everyone in this country. A diverse workforce shaping the law can only further aid policy decision-making that is more inclusive and equitable.

This article discusses some steps the public affairs industry and business leaders, can and must take, to improve diversity. 

Critical points for organisations to consider:

  1. The role of leadership in building an inclusive workforce cannot be understated

Achieving true ‘inclusivity’ requires buy-in from the top down. To make real progress in the PA industry, senior leaders need to be true champions of the cause, which requires paying close attention to the role of inclusive cultures in making change last. 

DE&I is a critical business strategy and an imperative that should be part of a company's lifeblood. D&I should not be plastered on top of company culture. But a lack of commitment and accountability to creating an environment of inclusivity and equity for all employees is a prevalent barrier.

  1. Attraction is just as important as retention

While introducing fair recruitment practises at all levels are essential – the organisation should strive to retain diverse talent once they are recruited.

There is so much talent out there, but the industry needs to move away from offering opportunities at the base level and look at ways to support talent to rise through the ranks, thrive and flourish.

Establishing a fair and transparent appraisal process guided by principles of fairness and one that also tries to illuminate unconscious biases is one example of how this can be achieved.

Creating a level-playing field and a progressive environment is invaluable for retaining those already working in public affairs to feel valued and respected. Once this happens, more people from different backgrounds can progress within the sector and attract others to the field.

  1. You don’t need a D&I policy or statement to act – be proactive.

When organisations start their D&I journey, beginning with a mission and vision is excellent. But if there is no follow-through or action taken after a policy is published, this can be unproductive.

Action in several areas, including tackling unconscious bias and attracting diverse talent, doesn’t require a statement - it requires an effort that is prioritised.

Senior leaders should be proactive in how they can support diverse talent to get into the industry and stay in the industry. This involves working directly with external partners like the Taylor Bennett Foundation to help drive and develop a career path.


It’s time for public affairs practitioners to diligently determine how we can do better and commit to having the critical conversations and actions that lead to making a difference.

Samiah Anderson (LinkedIn) is a Public Affairs Account Manager at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. She is also a Champion for Labour in Communications, and a Trustee of Rethinking Economics, an international network promoting pluralism in economics. She tweets at @andSamiah