Join Toyin Awesu as she discusses the focus on the intersection of diversity in communications and news rooms around the country and how the shifting demographics of the United States plays a big role in this. When diversity is not prioritized we miss out on effectively convening our desired messages.Effective communications can impact policy decisions, brand perception, product marketing, civic engagement and much more. We must harness the power of diversity to determine how and what we communicate.
Toyin is an experienced communications and media relations professional who is passionate about using her skills to help organizations shape public opinion and drive policy changes to build more equitable societies.
Amy Alyson Teller: What does diversity in communications and media look like in 2021?
Toyin Awesu: It goes beyond just race. It's looking at people's backgrounds, gender, sexual orientation, religion, educational background and professional experiences to ensure that our communications and media newsrooms are representative of the United States and the changing demographics of our country. When organizations are looking at how they are approaching diversity, they need to be able to look at it from a full spectrum. It needs to become the norm. An organization's leaders must truly ask themselves if their teams are diverse, and with the current structure and team that they have, are they able to respond accordingly to the interest of the American people. I think more organizations and newsrooms really need to begin having that honest conversation about what they stand for and what they want to achieve and evaluating if what they have currently supports it. It's not just about checking the boxes and saying I have this one person in this role and so now we're diverse, but can the people who are in these roles actually be their full selves. That’s where the equity and inclusion part of diversity comes in. Diversity is making sure that we have these kinds of voices, but also are they able to fully be themselves and fully bring these perspectives and be comfortable and confident in their roles as communications professionals or media professionals.
Amy Alyson Teller: How important is it for an organization to develop a communications team or newsroom with diversity as a major priority?
Toyin Awesu: Diversity is a benefit and not a hindrance. It's not saying that we're going to uplift these kinds of perspectives and these other perspectives are no longer are important. I think oftentimes that threat sometimes hinders how diverse a team is or how far they allow for diversity and inclusion to really permeate communications activities. If you see it as a benefit, it really helps a leader prioritize diversity. Diversity is also really important because it's a reflection of the demographics of the country. You want your communications team and your newsrooms to reflect the people, and it helps you bring these perspectives. As communications professionals, our job is to resonate with people and to shape public opinion, and when you don't have a myriad of perspectives at the table to also learn from, you aren’t really able to put the best message forward.
Amy Alyson Teller: How have consumer expectations and the shifting demographics influence how and what we communicate?
Toyin Awesu: There is rising racial and ethnic diversity among millennials, gen Z and younger groups, and this target audience comprises the majority of the nation's residents. As communications professionals that automatically sets off a light bulb. What is important to this target audience? What are their areas of concerns, and how does my organization respond to that? I think as communications professionals, we need to always have the external environment in mind, and so even if you don't have those resources in house to gain those perspectives you're not going to be able to actually be effective in helping your organization reach the target audiences. We're also looking at a cultural generation gap in public opinion on certain issues like political choices. Last summer we saw the rise or the national awareness around issues of police brutality and the need for police reform. That became front and center. You saw organizations and various newsrooms immediately responding to that and if they weren't responding to that the backlash that they were receiving from it. Our communications cannot afford to not respond to consumer expectations and the shifting demographics of the century.
Amy Alyson Teller: Could you tell us about a time when you experienced the power of diversity and communications and is there a time where you wonder to yourself, who approved that campaign?
Toyin Awesu: I've been on a team where I was the only female and only person of color. It helped me provide the team with an opportunity to see things from my perspective, but also helped me realize that I can't always expect someone to see things from my lens because that isn't their lived experience. Identifying what potential communication challenges you may have and making sure that you have those diverse voices to help you reach your target audience and overcome that barrier is really critical. We’re seeing the importance of this with having Black voices or people of color engage about the COVID-19 vaccine. This group actually feels more confident about taking the vaccine. We were seeing more Black doctors use social media and write op-eds. If they didn't do that, we'd probably be seeing even more hesitancy from people wanting to take the vaccine. It’s all about identifying what potential communication challenges you might have and making sure that you have those diverse voices to help you. One of the campaign's that I remember was around the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. A social media posts went out about Zeta Phi Beta performing, and it described them as a dance group and there was an uproar on social media. People were really upset. Zeta Phi Beta is a historically Black sorority and a member of the divine nine. These are organizations that have been pillars in African and African American Community. They were described as a dance group and that's not what they are, nor is that what they were doing. And so, for many people, it was just another example of the newsroom not having someone to be able to say this is incorrect.
Amy Alyson Teller: What soft skills can communications professionals acquire to help them really shape their strategy or messaging for leadership?
Toyin Awesu: Don’t be afraid to engage your networks. Engage people from different parts of the country, and even different parts of the world. Internally, it's also important for conversations between colleagues, so that you can gain those perspectives. Being able to be vulnerable as a communications professional and having an open mind, is a great way to learn. It forces you to challenge your norms. Another thing that you could do is study campaigns that receive negative backlash and learn why it happened and who it offended. We need to have our ear to social media, not just having an ear to what is happening in the mass media, but what's happening on social media, because we need to listen to what people are saying.
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