A post from WCA President Alice M. Walton
Women Communicators of Austin will celebrate its 95th birthday next year. The organization has gone through many iterations since women were initiated into Theta Sigma Phi at The University of Texas at Austin in 1929. What’s remained consistent is the organization’s commitment to promoting the advancement of women in all fields of communications.
This longevity is no accident. Year after year, WCA board members and volunteers have worked to stay on top of trends, anticipate members’ needs, balance the books and extend a hand to young communicators finding their footing. WCA is where generations of women have sought connection, friendship and opportunity.
At the start of this current Board year, the WCA Board of Directors agreed a top priority would be attracting and retaining a membership that reflects the makeup of Central Texas. We are not alone in considering how to improve diversity, equity and inclusion within our ranks. The lack of diversity in public relations is well documented. (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the field of communications to be more than three-quarters white.)
The good news is we’ve made progress since WCA adopted a DE&I platform in 2020:
- Established a DE&I Committee
- Intentionally invited and hosted speakers/panelists from a variety of backgrounds
- Paid honorariums to Get Smart speakers to compensate for their time, totaling $1,850 between 2022 and 2023
- Inclusive discounts to allow more equitable access to WCA events for persons with financial barriers, allowing members and non-members to attend events at no charge
- Drafted and created communications through the lens of inclusive language
Where we have faced continued challenges is in diversifying our membership, particularly with women of color. The fact of the matter is the makeup of WCA does not reflect Central Texas. Our 2023 member survey found 87 percent of members self-identify as white. The number of Black, Asian and Latinx members were all in the single digits. In contrast, the City of Austin is 32.5 percent Latinx, 8.9 percent Asian and 6.9 percent Black, according to the 2020 Census. Moreover, young Austinites are even more diverse. Nearly half of the under 18 population identifies as Latinx.
WCA misses out from this lack of diversity. There are voices we don’t hear. Brainstorms we’re not a part of. Conversations that don’t happen but which would otherwise broaden our worldview and deepen our understanding. It impacts our work, as well. Members join WCA to become better communicators. Diverse perspectives make our communications more representative, more nuanced, and more effective.
We want to make sure WCA is an organization where all communications professionals can feel welcome. We want them to see themselves reflected in the WCA community and to benefit from all that WCA has to offer, from Connect Over Cocktails events that lead to professional opportunities and friendships, to the skills and insights shared during WCA@Lunch and the Get Smart conference. And we want diverse groups to join us as we meet for early morning coffees to swap stories and tips on topics such as handling difficult clients and co-workers.
For all these reasons, WCA is proud to create an affinity group with the goal of bringing more women of color into the organization: Communicators of Color. An affinity group is people who share something in common, often similar backgrounds, experiences or interests. These are common across major corporations (Amazon, H-E-B, Google) and professional development groups (Public Relations Society of America and the Association of Fundraising Professionals-Greater Austin Chapter). The Communicators of Color affinity group will be a space to cultivate candid conversations, share experiences, and pursue equitable change within our community and industry. It’s an entry point to welcome new voices into WCA.
For now, we’ve adopted language similar to the AFP-Greater Austin Chapter, which asks white allies to support this group by sharing it with their network and posting on social media, but to refrain from attending events. We are committed to creating a comfortable space where BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), Asian, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latinxcan, and multi-racial people feel safe in attending and actively participating in discussions.
Of course it is our hope that individuals who participate in the affinity group also attend all the other WCA programs, such as WCA@Lunch, Careers Over Coffee and Connect Over Cocktails.
WCA is at the start of an endeavor to build our membership and diversity within our ranks. There will be successes, and likely some stumbles. This path, however, takes us in the direction of building another 95 years of service to our community.
- WCA and DEI: Putting Words into Action - November 15, 2023
- Keys to Keeping Clients Content: A WCA@Lunch Program Recap - March 13, 2023