Dear PAAC Members,
Let me start this note with a heartfelt congratulations to all of you for making it through the last 6 months. Your professionalism and ability to quickly adapt has greatly benefited your clients, organizations, and industries. I also want to thank you for sticking with PAAC as we navigated the changing landscape ourselves. Your support has been instrumental in helping us develop a plan, and we look forward to continuing to ramp up our efforts across the country.
I'll now turn to a topic that I am sure many of you are thinking about: diversity and inclusion. I'll begin by stating something that I think we can all agree upon: the public affairs industry has historically not been overly diverse. Perhaps noteworthy are the stakeholders we primarily work with - elected officials - who represent institutions that have long been underrepresented from a diversity standpoint. In fact, our current House of Commons consists of approximately 14% of MPs who identify as visible minorities and only 26% who are female. In many Provincial Legislatures, you can count the number of visible minorities on one hand, with a clear gender imbalance existing as well. In our own organization, PAAC's Board of Directors, while having long benefited from strong female leadership, has only ever placed 1 woman in the President's seat. This is not meant as a criticism or condemnation, particularly in that the examples above are elected through the democratic process. This is instead a recognition of our past and current reality, so we can take deliberate steps to remove barriers to participation in the future.
Our Path Forward:
The good news is we aren't starting from scratch. I have observed in my nearly 10 years with PAAC that we are a rapidly changing and evolving industry. I am so encouraged by the current and next generation of public affairs professionals, which is made up of more women, new Canadians, and racialized communities than ever before. Using our events and membership list as a gauge, I would even venture to say that these groups have become the majority of our industry, and are rapidly rising to senior positions in their own companies, if not already there. Our industry has also benefited from PAAC's Women in Public Affairs (WIPA) program, which has provided critical mentorship and collaboration opportunities for those who have participated. We are also seeing incredible value from formal educational opportunities like the Seneca Government Relations program, which has provided an entry point for many who may have not considered this a viable career path in the past. This is certainly promising news for our industry from a diversity and inclusion standpoint, but there is still work that we need to do.
With that said, the question now turns to strategies for PAAC to tap in and contribute to the progress being made. The first step is of course identifying the baseline problem, which I think we have now done and will continue to better define as we go. Secondly, at the August PAAC Board of Directors meeting, the Board unanimously agreed to strike a "Nominations, Governance, and Diversity Committee", with the aim to develop strategies for PAAC to attract a more diverse Board and leadership group. The Committee is looking at both real and perceived barriers to participation in our organization, including our Bylaws and elections process, and have already delivered a strong set of recommendations for our Board to act on; we will share those details and subsequent actions over the next few weeks and months. This group will also benefit from the input of outside experts in diversity and inclusion, to help shape their overall recommendations and our Board's actions. Thanks to Michelle Eaton and Paul Yeung for agreeing to lead this committee, and I extend the following invite to our community on their behalf: if you can contribute and help shape the future of PAAC, we want to hear from you. Please contact Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Finally, I will be stepping aside as PAAC President at the end of this term, my second. This leaves the door wide-open for a fresh face (if any of us actually have that anymore!) with new thoughts and leadership ideas. I am encouraged by the early interest we have received in the position, and am confident it will help propel this organization forward. Of equal importance, we will also have several Board of Director positions up for election at our AGM in December, and I would strongly encourage all PAAC members to consider putting their name forward.
In closing, it is clear to me that the public affairs industry has undergone rapid changes over the past 5 years, and we are better for it. The time is now for PAAC as an organization to remove any barriers that may exist, whether real or perceived, so we can unleash that diversity to shape our future.
Ryan Eickmeier, President
Public Affairs Association of Canada