In early October, the PRSA Foundation and Museum of PR launched “Diverse Voices: Profiles in Leadership,” a book designed to help communications leaders and professionals better understand the challenges faced by minorities in the communications profession. The book features interviews with more than 40 corporate PR agency leaders and educators of diverse backgrounds. These individuals, many of whom have risen to the highest levels of the communications profession, share candid anecdotes detailing successes and challenges that they faced during their career, as well as tips and lessons for those entering the field. As a woman and the owner of my own agency, I connect with both the challenges and opportunities being a minority can bring, and the importance of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace has never been lost on me. In fact, it has been a core part of Prosek’s growth and competitive advantage since our founding. 

D&I is a business imperative, not just in our industry, but overall, and the Diverse Voices book and initiative, as well as the work the Page Society has been doing to advance opportunity and inclusion, is incredibly important to ensuring we are able to attract and retain strong, diverse talent into the space. The book features stories from colleagues across numerous organizations including Aflac, Lenovo, General Motors, Wells Fargo and others with the underlying goal of sharing real insights and actionable takeaways that employers like me and other key decision makers can use in our efforts to create a truly diverse and inclusive communications industry. 

With that said, I wanted to share two extremely compelling stories from Michael Sneed, executive vice president, Global Corporate Affairs, and chief communication officer at Johnson & Johnson, and Sheryl Battles, vice president, global diversity, inclusion and engagement at Pitney Bowes, who are among the top communicators in the field. These stories remind us that each one of us has so much dimension – and that our diverse backgrounds and experiences are not just an asset to the business but make being at work more dynamic, interesting and rewarding. I hope you find their stories as inspirational, memorable and valuable as I do.

The following is excerpted from the PRSA Foundation and Museum of PR's book, “Diverse Voices: Profiles in Leadership.” Part II below, features Sheryl Battles, vice president, global diversity, inclusion and engagement, at Pitney Bowes. Part I was published on November 6 and features Michael Sneed, Johnson & Johnson’s executive vice president, Global Corporate Affairs, and chief communication officer, and a member of Johnson & Johnson’s Executive Committee.

Sheryl Battles is the vice president, global diversity, inclusion and engagement, at Pitney Bowes, with responsibility for strategy and communications in those areas. She has been at the company for over 25 years. During her tenure, Ms. Battles has provided strategic communications counsel to the CEO, COO and other designated senior management in a range of communications areas, particularly in financial communications, thought leadership, crisis/issues management and diversity communications. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in human biology from Stanford University.

I grew up in a small town in Texas. My mother was an educator with a master’s degree. My dad worked in a manufacturing environment. 

I always say to people that my first communications job was communicating to my parents — after getting a Bachelor of Arts in human biology from Stanford — why I would not be going into medicine after I graduated. My educational focus at Stanford did, in many ways, prepare me to do a lot of what I do now. My area of concentration was using the media to implement health care systems. That taught me how to think about really complex topics, and be able to articulate them in language an audience could understand. 

One of my projects was to script and produce a TV show to get people to stop smoking. I also developed a soap opera for a radio station around cardiovascular health. So, while it was all in the science realm, I was using communication to get the message through to the audience. 

In my first job, I actually ended up having a very good relationship with my boss’s boss. It wasn’t by design. It was because he happened to have a daughter still in college who was a few years younger than I. She was interning for the summer. I identified with her as another young woman trying to learn about the working world, and I kind of took her under my wing. We became friends. But there were some others in the office who were dismissive of her, feeling that she was there only because she was the kid of some high-ranking executive. But I treated her as a human, as someone who had some good ideas. Well, my boss’s boss took note of the relationship. Apparently, she went home each day telling him about how smart I was and what I was working on. So I had someone who was providing this whole different perspective of who I was. Had it not been for her, my boss’s boss would never have known who I was, let alone the work I was doing. As a result, he was very supportive of me and my work in the company. 

One of the things I did before working at Pitney Bowes was to run my own firm. I was very young and it was very challenging. My clients included a real estate developer, travel agency, a stockbroker, a municipality, and I did pro bono work for a church. 

Throughout my professional journey, I worked for a variety of companies in different industries, different sizes. Early on, most of them were privately held. I’ve had the opportunity to learn all aspects of public relations and communications. And I sought those opportunities to practice my craft not only at work; I also sought them through volunteer opportunities as well. 

I’m proud to have had such a rich variety of experiences — everything from media relations to internal communications to litigation communications to special events to strategic philanthropy to financial communications, diversity communications, executive communications, speech-writing — I’ve done it all. 

Every organization is made up of people. And how you interface with people will determine to some extent your opportunities. Some of the conversations that most impact you in life happen in rooms where you are not, but your personal brand is. So when your name gets on the invite list for a meeting, there’s some image or perspective of you that pops into people’s heads. Your brand enters the room before you; and once you are there it influences the lens through which people assess your behavior and hear your ideas. After the meeting, people will walk away and say, “Yeah, I was just in this meeting with her, and she did XYZ.” Perceptions about you and your value are shaped by all of these interactions, as people seek to see how your brand and your behavior are aligned. 

Part of how you make connections that matter is through results. And it can be a Catch-22, because first you’ve got to have opportunity to show what kind of results you can deliver. Then when you do deliver, you’ve got to deliver results that add value. Then, hopefully, there’ll be other opportunities coming up with your name on them. 

It’s really important that your network is multilateral. I have great relationships with everybody in the building, from the lady who makes the coffee all the way up to executive row. Networking is not just getting to know those you think you can learn from; you also need to network with people you think can learn from you as well. That means everyone has the potential to make a difference in your journey, no matter where they sit in the organization. 

Every day, you have the opportunity to make it happen. And even now, later in my career, I’m getting to learn and do and think about very different things. That’s been key throughout my life and career. 

Being a person of color has overall been a good experience for me. But there have been challenging moments. I remember getting a call from an agency to come in for an interview. I walked into the reception area; I was pretty excited. I was in a new city. I couldn’t wait to go after this opportunity. The receptionist asked who I was there to see and told me to have a seat. Then I heard the click clack of the heels of the woman coming to meet me. But when she realized that I was the person she was going to interview, the smile on her face practically disappeared. Then she extended her hand to me and said, “Oh, you looked so good on paper.” 

You can’t judge an organization by the actions of one individual; you really can’t. But there was something about how the receptionist looked at me, in addition to the interviewer’s statement, that provided a clear indication that this was not an inclusive environment. 

There’s a lot of research out there about the business value of diversity. Years ago Pitney Bowes funded research at the Wharton School about the performance of diverse teams. What the research showed is that teams with more aspects of diversity among them might take a little more time to get the project done because they had to get used to each other’s communication styles, work styles and preferences. But in the end they came up with a better solution. 

The differences in experiences, approaches and thinking led to innovation and better problem solving. Thinking differently about what is possible and the way things work is what is reshaping industries and redefining the way we live. The question that organizations have to deal with today is their openness to embracing difference in order to produce better results. That is the power of diversity and inclusion. Inclusive organizations make room for different voices, perspectives and experiences to be respected, heard and make meaningful contributions to results. 

When you look at the demographics of the world, we are in the most diverse interconnected marketplace in the history of commerce. So there is diversity coming from geography and culture, there is diversity of generation, there is diversity in terms of gender identification and orientation, there is diversity in terms of ethnicity, there is neurodiversity and disability, and it goes on and on and on. So whether an organization is actively seeking to include more diversity within its walls or not, it has to deal with the diversity of everyone outside of the organization that it needs to connect with, whether it’s customers, decision makers, policymakers or regulators, or the talent that it needs to keep going further into to 21st century. 

The communications industry has what I call both a pipeline issue and a promotion issue. The pipeline is who’s coming in, and do we have a critical mass of diverse talent that looks at the communications industry and says, I am interested, and I am in. The promotion issue is a question of unlocking opportunity for those who are already in the industry. We’re looking for more diversity in leadership in the communications industry. Part of the answer is sitting right there in our organizations today. While this is not unique to the communications industry, the closer you get to the top, the less diverse it becomes. As an industry, we have to ask ourselves what’s happening in our industry today to prevent more of our diverse talent from making it to the top? Are we getting the most out of everybody in the room? 

What can happen with diverse talent tends to be due to one or some combination of three factors. One is visibility: Who knows you’re there? Another is opportunity: Do you have an opportunity to demonstrate what you know, how you think and what you can do? And the third is senior advocacy: Who is actually going to be your advocate in that room when a decision is being made about the next opportunity or promotion? 

I was raised to believe that for people of color, everything you say and everything you do will be assessed and analyzed by a higher standard. It was common for parents to say to children, “Look, you are going to have to be better than anyone else when you walk in that room.” It’s something that I’ve carried with me all my life. Yes, I am known as an overachiever. And if that’s the worst thing that you can say about me, then I have done a good job. If I could go back and tell my younger self what to say to the woman who implied I was more desirable on paper, I would answer, “That’s nothing compared to how much better I am in person!”