By: Jabria Roscoe

Orange Umbrella Student Consultancy hosted its first Beyond the Umbrella where guest speaker Ronald Roberts, managing partner at global marketing communications firm, Finn Partners, discussed the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. The event included student hosts Mia Porter and Anika Bhavnani who guided the conversation.

Throughout the evening, Roberts emphasized that companies that want to succeed must be diverse.

“If you want to be a successful business in 2021, you’ve got to reach out to diverse audiences,” said Roberts. “DEI is not a movement or a social event…it’s a necessary tool to be successful.”

DEI is a program with the goal to foster and maintain a work environment where diverse employees can thrive.

“Once you have diverse employees you have to retain them, because once you keep them, they become invaluable,” Roberts said.

As the current managing partner at Finn Partners, Roberts says he began his public relations career as an assistant accounting executive. As he advanced over the years, he saw less and less people that looked like him.

“I was one of only a few African Americans at the agency and one of a few African Americans in the industry. But over time, as I worked my way up from the very beginning and, through every step I made, there were fewer and fewer people that looked like me. For a lot of my clients, I was the first PR person that they’d ever met of color,” Roberts said.

He went on to state that this put him in a position where he had to consistently educate his coworkers who were misinformed because they’d never worked with a person of color before.

Roberts continued to say that navigating the workspace as a person of color will not always be easy and creating a truly diverse environment where there is understanding amongst colleagues takes time.

“There is no perfect workplace…you have to be realistic, and your goal should be to be better tomorrow than you are today. “If you’re not a minority but you want to help, be an ally…everyone needs an ally,” Roberts said.

As for the future of diversity in the workplace, Roberts is optimistic as so much has changed since he entered the workforce.

“This conversation will be needed, but not be as needed 10 years from now,” said Roberts. “I’m much more comfortable today than I was before. It took me 10-15 years to get to the point where some people are today, and I think that’s a good thing.”

He continued, “…there were times where I had to tamper my blackness,” said Roberts. “I would choose neutral music…I would have to make sure my hair was acceptable…I was proud of who I am, but I also had to look at what’s in the best interest of my career.”

Roberts closed his talk on the often-unfair competition in the workforce between minority and majority candidates. He said that while it is unfortunate, minorities often must strive to be the hardest working person in the room in order to “compete” with their white counterparts.

“If someone is willing to take a chance on hiring you, you feel like if ‘I don’t do a good-job, I’ve messed it up for all the black people behind me’,” said Roberts. “You feel a sense of undo pressure.”

“The reality is there is there are challenges, and you need to be prepared for them. “I’m a living example that it’s possible,” he said.

Beyond the Umbrella is Orange Umbrella’s new DEI initiative bringing conversations and experiences to UM. The conversation with Roberts was held on March 23 at 5 p.m. through Zoom. Orange Umbrella at the School of Communication is a full-service student-run communication consultancy offering an array of services to clients including events, public relations, strategy, design, social media, and content.