Last week in Miami, the fourth annual ColorComm Conference was the hottest ticket in town if you were a woman of color in communications. The three-day experience was filled with thought provoking breakout sessions, colorful (and at times controversial) panel discussions and numerous networking opportunities, all capped off by a humorous and candid keynote speech delivered by the incomparable Whoopi Goldberg.

As a member of Burson-Marsteller’s Diversity & Inclusion Council, I had the privilege of attending ColorComm with several other Burson-Marsteller colleagues representing all levels and disciplines within our organization. Although positioned as a conference dedicated to addressing the unique issues faced by women of color in our field, the insightful and actionable lessons we learned can, and should, be implemented as best practices to help accelerate the industry’s and our agency’s larger D&I efforts.

The Good News
Progress toward a more diverse and inclusive industry is being made and that progress is measurable. Just like the work we do for our clients, we must demonstrate that our efforts are helping to move the needle in a positive direction. More importantly, these changes are coming from the highest ranks of agencies and corporations alike – where CEOs and other executives are being held financially accountable for meeting specific D&I targets. The outdated and misinformed perception that D&I is solely about meeting a quota is also changing. Rather, it is now being viewed as an increasingly crucial business objective.

The Bad News
Change is coming slower than we’d like and there’s still a lot of work to be done. For example, while women overall are occupying more senior leadership positions, representation in the C-suite is dismal, and it’s even more alarming for women of color. But with these challenges comes great opportunity for change, and some of the industry’s largest agencies (including Burson-Marsteller) are working together to break down those barriers and create solutions.

So, you may ask, “What now?” Truthfully, there isn’t any one correct answer. But from the knowledge I gained at the ColorComm Conference, I believe that through deliberate and consistent action our collective efforts can create a groundswell that will spark greater change from the inside of our agency outwards.

Three small ways you can become part of the solution include:

  1. Have constructive disruptive conversations: Essentially, we need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable – especially when it comes to addressing sensitive D&I topics that affect us all, e.g. gender and racial discrimination, the wage gap, cultural differences and others that ignite the social and political divide. Through conversation we achieve deeper understanding and connection, which improves everyone’s experience. Burson-Marsteller has championed this type of communication via agency-wide town halls and panel discussions. Last year’s “Burson Forum on Race and Policing in America” immediately comes to mind when, at the time, the tension between ethnic communities and law enforcement agencies across the country had reached a fever pitch.
  2. Become an ally: One of the most anticipated breakout sessions at ColorComm was called “A Few Good Men,” which featured four industry thought leaders including Jorge Ortega, EVP and Managing Director of Burson’s Miami office. The session presented a male POV on how women can better negotiate, get promoted and assert themselves in the workplace. The common thread among the panelists was their deep and authentic belief in the intelligence, strength and capabilities of women in our industry. We need more voices like theirs and we need them to be loud. If there ever comes a time when you feel that diversity & inclusion doesn’t matter to you simply because you don’t identify with the affected racial/cultural/gender groups, remember that we all have skin in the game. Be an ally and speak up for others, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
  3. Take action, as there is no time to waste: On day two of the conference, I attended a very memorable breakfast session titled “Trailblazing with Intention in the Age of Trump.” The panel was moderated by CNN Political Strategist Symone Sanders and included three PR leaders representing different PR agencies. Naturally, the discussion touched upon the President’s latest Twitter activity from earlier that morning and the latest staff shake-ups in the West Wing, but one of the panelists (and a former colleague of mine) shared some final words that left me inspired and motivated. She said that “regardless of your title, work background, resources or the blatant examples of injustice you may experience, you must act relentlessly to safeguard the future for the professionals who will follow behind us. While we may not see the full outcomes of the D&I work we’re doing now, the next generation of women communicators will surely benefit from our efforts, and that makes the struggle worthwhile.”

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have attended the ColorComm Conference. The educational sessions and interaction with my fellow sisters in the industry have provided a refined framework from which to work and live. It is my hope that you will join me in putting these learnings into practice to help build a more diverse and inclusive environment in your workplace. Give it a try, you just may surprise yourself!

Nikki Lopez is a Manager in Burson-Marsteller’s U.S. Consumer & Brand Marketing Practice.

Highlights from “A Few Good Men” Panel at ColorComm #C2Miami 2017: