I am often asked by diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) communications professionals if getting certified in the field is worth it. I personally hold DE&I certifications and find that there is notable value to each of these programs. I want to provide my insight on why one might invest in this education and the practical utility that DE&I certification serves for the public relations community.
In many instances, DE&I practitioners come from the field of marketing and communications. Much of our work as DEI practitioners is advancing change across how people communicate, how people behave and how they think. We draw on a multitude of methodologies and bodies of knowledge: sociology, psychology, design thinking, communication theory, etc.
As institutions ranging from corporate to government to media to nonprofit organizations continue on their journey of DE&I, they actively reach out to public relations and communications professionals to help tell the story of their commitment and action. But how can we as communications professionals properly frame and discuss a topic we are not equipped to understand?
A DE&I certification program can aid experienced and new practitioners understand their knowledge-in-use (a phrase common in learning communities to measure one’s application of knowledge and practices). As we commit to our own equitable practice, an investment in training and education is essential to diagnosing and treating the challenges within institutions. Here are four notable values of DE&I certifications for PR and communications practitioners:
- A common/shared language toolbox for framing what we mean when we say diversity, equity and inclusion, and for defining other buzzwords on the topic that might otherwise be misused or misunderstood.
- Each individual can identify their skills and knowledge gaps and create a roadmap for bolstering their learning or bridging those gaps appropriately.
- Practitioners will increase their awareness of and confidence with concepts and practices that are validated and affirmed by their peers and teachers.
- Because the fields of DE&I and communications share some methodologies in implementation, a certification will help practitioners gain transferable skills and knowledge, advancing their work as partners within their own institutions as well as for those they serve.
Furthermore, it is vital to acknowledge the field of DE&I is ever-evolving. While I believe it to be immeasurably worthwhile, completion of a DE&I program is not a cure-all whereupon completion, you will have achieved infinite knowledge. As a practice, DE&I is often considered a “master-apprentice” field — meaning a relationship established between two parties as a model for transferring skills and knowledge. In many instances, our best learning happens in proximity, both with other practitioners and proximity to the scenarios and solutions we implement. One way to build those master-apprentice relationships is to engage in the learning communities that DE&I certifications offer.
The unfortunate truth of the DE&I field is that, while the discipline has existed for more than four decades, there is no standardized body of knowledge. You cannot yet major in DE&I. There are no core competencies, no ethical standards regarding the implementation of DEI practice. There are limited professional associations and no universally agreed-upon credentials. Because we are in the midst of grappling with our lack of recognition of, and even resistance to, DE&I as a profession, an apt starting point for our collective evolution may begin within these programs.
It must be noted – there is a stark difference between holding a certification and being certified. Generally speaking, certification requires attendance in a set of courses that result in a pass/fail. Meanwhile, being certified is competency-based and intended to recognize practitioners who meet a set of standards developed by a third-party, such as a university or professional association.
Amira Barger is a Bay Area resident and parent, an executive vice president of communications & DEI at Edelman, and an adjunct professor of marketing & communications at Cal State East Bay. Is a DE&I certification worth it for comms pros?