FleishmanHillard chief diversity and inclusion officer Adrianne C. Smith, who is also founder of the Can: Diversity Collective, tells Doug Simon that despite some recent setbacks for DE&I initiatives, "organizations who are committed to the cause" remain a powerful force.

Helping chief diversity officers, Smith says, requires creating support networks both within and between organizations. "The work of DEI is not a competitive business, it's an imperative business. How we support one another in terms of being as consistent as possible with the work, with the policies, with the toolkits, helps us build momentum so that every time there's an issue, we're not starting from ground zero."

The discussion also addresses the importance of mentorship. Smith tells Simon that developing successful mentorship policies requires that communicators lean into the industry's identitiy as a "human connection business," noting that "it's just about how you manage that human resource, that relationship that you have, and that you're able to build to make people feel like they have the opportunity to do what's next."

The value of the DEI mission is, if anything, growing, she adds. "DEI work makes an organization. It is a foundation, and it is also imperative for financial gain. People want to be able to see the value of making an equitable work environment so people feel like they can belong, and have the equal opportunity to do great work."

Leaders also need to keep the DEI message front and center, she says. "It should start at the CEO, that entire C-suite should be in regular dialogue and conversation with each other and providing each other the guidance in terms of what should happen as we think about scenario planning within organizations, being very smart about what the possibilities are and then being prepared."

A trip to the Cannes International Festival of Creativity in 2017 spurred Smith to found the Can: Diversity Collective, which has become a part of major global events like Davos. "While I was there, I think there were over 20,000 people in attendance, but only 200 looked like me. The people who are doing some of that great creative work, some of the key, creators, founders, leaders in this industry were not there and they were not present. So, I made a decision that year that I would bring young people back to the festival to participate in their Young Lions Academy."

Smith offers several tips for how communicators can keep pushing the DEI messsge forward. "Create an opportunity for people to be in a mindset of what can happen, right? So yes, you can. And being able to just shift the mindsets and heart sets of people will make a difference."

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