Diversity and Inclusion: It's Up to Us

    Photo: D&I Panel Session, 2018 Western District Conference. Y’Anad Burrell, Pauline Rivera, Heather Johnson

    By Heather Johnson, PRSA Colorado Diversity & Inclusion Board Chair 

    There’s no room for denial. I loved every minute of the Diversity & Inclusion session “Diversity and Inclusion: How to Avoid Becoming the Next Headline” at the 2018 PRSA Western District Conference. Admittedly, I may be somewhat biased. I have been a fan of Y’Anad Burrell, founder and CEO of Glass House Communications, since I met her at PRSA ICON in 2016, and I was excited to meet Pauline Rivera, general manager of Denver’s 44-year-old bilingual publication La Voz. I initially hesitated when I was asked to moderate this panel of visionaries. Nevertheless, I was thrilled at the prospect.

    Sometimes I feel I cannot fully escape issues involving diversity and inclusion (D&I). From Starbucks and Ink! Coffee to United Airlines and Target, at times diversity and inclusion seem to consume every essence of my being.

    As much as I speak about D&I issues and try to educate those who haven’t fully embraced the concepts, I still worried when planning for this panel that I would somehow miss this remarkable opportunity to engage our peers. I worried the topics discussed would be too much, too soon, too overwhelming, too real -- and I was wrong.

    The panel session featuring Y’Anad and Pauline was both entertaining and educational. Both women offered invaluable insight on the business case for diversity and inclusion, and both expressed their frustrations that — after decades of debate — we are still discussing the need for inclusion and the necessity for diversity.

    At times, it seems the work has been done in vain, but people of all backgrounds must accept accountability for diversity and inclusion. The women challenged the audience to speak up, get uncomfortable and be willing to be the “first.” Y’Anad and Pauline agreed that people of color cannot and should not be expected to fight injustices and push for inclusion in our workplaces without assistance from our “white allies.” This issue affects all of us, and yes, it is exhausting -- it is mentally and emotionally draining. It is difficult…initially. However, when we are honest with each other and truly accepting, not tolerating, of our differences, the work becomes more manageable and hopefully second nature.

    As PR practitioners, we must be courageous. I invite you to join the PRSA Colorado Diversity & Inclusion Committee, walk your neighborhood, meet your target audience, listen and truly engage. Seek ways to break the invisible barriers that continue to divide us and strive to be the model of a truly diverse and inclusive workforce. For more information about the committee, email us at


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