In the blur of a massive global disruption, taking time to occasionally stop and listen to other people in different situations can be a wonderful gift. Last week, our team at Tunheim had the opportunity to connect, listen and learn how members of our IPREX Global Communication network in 110 cities are being impacted by and dealing with the triple challenge of a global pandemic, a worldwide recession and the urgent move to eradicate racism. A series of conversations over four days revealed an amazing collection of insights.

COVID-19 responses reveal real strengths and weaknesses

Part of the gift of being a member of a global organization is access to firsthand information and insights from others living and working beyond our horizon. The leaders of our Italian office in Milan warned us early that working from home would reveal “the things that really matter.” For instance, we learned early that having a dog in Milan led to the precious right to take a stroll outdoors. As the pandemic worsened, we got early insights on evolving new needs and requirements both for our talent and systems as well as our client organizations. That intel led our team in Minneapolis to create a process and system that several clients are using today to pivot during the crisis and emerge as stronger organizations.

Last week, we got deep insights into how differently COVID-19 is playing out across our global regions. If you ask Ben Haslem in our Sydney office, Wells Haslem Mayhew, he will tell you COVID-19 as a disease had a comparative low impact with 123 deaths – though every passing is still a tragedy. Australia has been heralded as a global leader, but despite the government’s best efforts to protect the populace, the Commonwealth is entering its first recession in three decades. Many business leaders in Australia have never experienced recession as managers – there is, in effect, no playbook.

Some of our offices may never go back to the “office” as we knew it. Others are downsizing space, reconsidering the definition of “workday,” exploring productivity and worrying about finding effective ways to collaborate. Our collective strength, it turns out, has been our longtime ability to collaborate across time zones, continents and cultures. Those efforts over the past decade are serving our team members well.

George Floyd is The Global Face of Eliminating Racism

It took 8 minutes and 46 seconds to ignite the greatest urgency to eliminate racism since Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama in 1965. It is personally enlightening to see and hear the impact George Floyd’s murder ignited worldwide.

Our industry’s miserable failure to create inclusive work environments to attract (and retain) people of color was the subject of the most illuminating discussion among our network partners. I have personally viewed the overwhelming whiteness of the communications industry as a “U.S. problem.” I have fresh perspective after hearing Xavier Prabhu, the founder and managing director of PRHub in India, share his experience moving through subtle structures designed to restrict access and upward mobility in our industry. The bottom line is systemic racist practices prevent talented people from bringing their varied perspectives and talents to our communication practices.  In addition, Xavier pushed our network to “broadening the definition of diversity and inclusion to include race, religion, color to caste and even access among others.”

We were duly challenged by the leader of our Tallahassee, Florida office to stop complaining about the lack of Black applicants. Heidi Otway, president and partner of Salter Mitchell, challenged us to get out of our offices and actively recruit talented students seeking marketing and communication careers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Heidi, who is Black, graduated from an HBCU and has introduced other public relations agencies to her alma mater and other schools to find talent. She challenged the members of our network to recruit Black interns and graduates and she is building a list of HBCUs with journalism programs. I can assure you Heidi will have a lot more company recruiting students during future visits.

The challenge moving forward is to focus on the unique things we heed to do to strengthen our business, practices and team. In the past we gave up because it was too hard, too big and other things could distract us from the truly difficult work. If we learned anything last week, it is the hard truth that there are no more excuses. It is time to make the difficult pivots required to create work environments that are safe, inclusive and equitable.

Patrick Milan serves as Tunheim’s Chief Insights Officer. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota and the Board of Directors of Artistry, a producing theater and visual arts nonprofit.

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