Creating a Strong Culture of Belonging
Our Silicon Valley chapter of PRSA was thrilled to host a webinar on DEI that featured board members Judy Cushman and Jazmin Eusebio leading a conversation with Elizabeth Herrera Smith, EVP and head of DEI for WE Communications.
For the past three years, Elizabeth has been at the helm of the agency's DEI efforts. Her primary focus is centered around creating a strong culture of belonging, increasing diverse representation, providing opportunities for leadership development and advancing employees' understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion. Elizabeth and her DEI team also work closely with external partners and professional organizations that promote opportunities in the Marcom industry for underrepresented groups, including ColorComm, the Hispanic PR Association and the LAGRANT Foundation.
Elizabeth is always the first to point out that her journey to WE Communications was unexpected. It began some 23 years ago when she visited a friend for the weekend and met a new acquaintance working for Waggener Edstrom (now WE Communications), who encouraged her to send her resume to the agency. After all, she did have a degree in PR. When she arrived home, she heard from the recruiter, flew back and interviewed, and started as an assistant account executive! And the rest is history!
Advising Clients to Directing Strategy and Efforts for WE
In the PR industry, itis uncommon to stay at the same agency or corporation for longer than three to five years, but when you find a home and opportunities for growth, why leave? During her time at WE Communications, Elizabeth has worked on accounts ranging from consumer, enterprise technology and executive communications to brand reputation, and ultimately, DEI.
She says: "There are many people like me who have 20+ years of tenure at WE, which is a real testament to the culture the founders created. Our values prioritize integrity, humanity, and collaboration."
Elizabeth runs a small, mighty team, which is a deliberate choice. While it’s important to have a team of people focused on advancing the agency’s DEI commitments, an inclusive culture will only take root if everyone inside the organization feels accountability for contributing to these efforts. Therefore, by partnering with leaders and business functions across the agency, she can bring DEI to everyone in the organization and actively create ways for people to activate DEI day-to-day in their teams. She emphasized the importance of working across company teams—executives and HR—as they are critical to the work of DEI.
"If DEI sits off in a corner, it's tough to make those systemic changes that we know are needed to make our organizations more inclusive," says Elizabeth.
What are the lessons Elizabeth has learned that will help PR communicators and, frankly, all of us grow in our DEI efforts? Here is what she had to say:
- Start from the Start: Give yourself time and space to look at your organization through a new lens; assess the organization by interviewing leaders, senior managers, and employees, to understand how DEI can and should be showing up in their business functions. Pair that with quantitative data to see what the numbers are telling you about the trends and patterns relating to retention, promotions, and hiring.
- Focus is Key: There is no shortage of things to tackle in DEI, which is why it is important to take a data driven approach to what you are trying to achieve. Otherwise, you can find yourself trying to do everything, and doing nothing very well.
- Consistency Matters: It’s critical to strike a balance between giving employees something new to engage with from a DEI standpoint, while also not abandoning the programs and efforts that need time to take root. Steady progress builds with continual reinforcement.
To listen to the entire webinar, go to: https://vimeo.com/877757614
Meghan Fintland, author of this story, is the president of PRSA Silicon Valley. A member of the board since January of 2020, Meghan has held a variety of senior leadership positions at global corporations and agencies including HPE, NetApp, Ogilvy PR and most recently, Early Warning, owner of Zelle.
PRSA SV recommends the hashtags #equality #diversityequityandinclusion #DEI and #representationmatters, and thanks Noelle Smyth for coordinating the recent Friday Forums.
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