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With the airwaves filled to capacity with diversity and inclusion (D&I) content in the lead-up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, everyone is taking the time to give their viewpoint from any and every angle conceivable. Issues ranging from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to requirements for diversity reporting on stock exchanges and the gender pay gap have ensured that D&I has become a hot topic. 

The best reason to pay attention, though, is that it’s the right thing to do – and perhaps very close behind, is that it’s good for business. Diverse teams bring varied experiences and outlooks, making for richer dialogue, more creative solutions, and increased awareness of a diverse marketplace’s needs.  For a business like Cognito’s, where capturing hearts and minds is critical, being diverse and inclusive is the best way of producing creative, workable ideas for our clients

PR in the UK

In the PR Consulting industry, the CIPR has turned its lens on how the UK stacks up when it comes to D&I, and the results show a developing landscape. Its 2018 PR and Communications Census reveals that women comprise 66% of practitioners, up from 64% in 2016 – the last time the census was held.  

But in 2016 48% of top management positions were occupied by women – equal but indicating a loss of talent as younger practitioners rise through the ranks.  As attitudes change and regulation plays its part, we can expect to see more women taking up senior roles in agencies.  

On the delicate issue of ethnicity, there is less diversity in the UK PR industry: White British practitioners still dominate, at 78% – but as the national average is 80.5%, “for the first time since the PRCA began recording the industry’s diversity, the predominance of White British practitioners is lower than the national average.” In top management roles, 87% of Chairmen and Managing Directors are White British.  

Lower down the hierarchy – boding well for future management – younger professionals are more ethnically diverse, with 74% of 25-35-year-olds identifying as White British.  And when it comes to age overall, the average in the UK industry is 29 – up from 2016’s 28.  

Our APAC story

A quick poll of Cognito’s APAC team shows a very different mix.  We are perfectly balanced along gender lines, 50/50 men and women.  The heads of our two regional offices are similarly split at one woman and one man – Prisita Menon in Singapore and Dan Bradley in Hong Kong.  

For a business based in the melting-pots of Hong Kong and Singapore, it’s useful (but not prescriptive) to look at nationality as distinct from ethnicity.  By the first measure, we have a group of colleagues from Britain who add to a larger contingent who hail from Asia.  Among our Asian colleagues, we have Singaporeans of Indian, Malay and Chinese descent. The Hong Kong office also has Chinese ethnic professionals. To add yet more flair to our D&I, we are also lucky enough to have people from New Zealand and one who was born and raised in Zimbabwe.  

D&I fuels client satisfaction

For Cognito’s APAC business, this diversity is essential.  Just in the two countries where we have offices, five main languages are spoken (at a conservative count) and our markets contain significant proportions of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Confucianism.  While the universal language of business is English, our clients – particularly B2C businesses – require us to have a good understanding of the values and preferences of a very heterogeneous population.  Our Cognito colleagues all speak and write brilliant English – and we can add Shona, Cantonese, Hokkien, Mandarin, Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia, Hindi and Tamil.  

We could apply numerous other measures: educational qualifications, sexual orientation, social mobility.  But it’s clear to anyone who has spent time in the Asian offices that living in culturally- and ethnically-diverse cities means our teams are inclusive by their very nature – all are welcome and our social gatherings are lively.  

Recalling the fundamental tenet that a business’ workforce should reflect the diversity of its market, we’re applying a healthy range of experience, backgrounds and cultures when we address our clients’ communications needs. In a region where a rising middle class and tech-savvy millennial generation offer huge business opportunities, and where technology is moving to address deep inequalities, tapping into the zeitgeist keeps us on-message and fuels creativity.  And Asia’s fragmented jigsaw of territories, cultures and jurisdictions means we’re communicating across a complex landscape – which we’re also drawing our talent from. 

And over the longer term, we’re also ensuring that we’re locking in a strongly inclusive culture for Cognito’s future in the region.  Working together in inclusive teams provides our younger colleagues with a sound foundation that mixes the best of Western practices with all the dynamism and entrepreneurialism of Asia.  

The beneficial dynamics of diversity and inclusion is a clear strength for Cognito’s APAC business – and being aware of it only increases the certainty that our D&I credentials will continue to power our growth.  This International Women’s Day, we’re confident that the dynamic young women in our teams have a bright future in the industry. 

Jeremy Hughes is based in Cognito's Singapore office