The election of Barack Obama as the country’s first black president has put the issue of diversity under increased public scrutiny. That’s a good thing for industries—like public relations—that can benefit from attracting more African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and other minority professionals to its ranks.
Over the past few years, our industry has made a serious commitment to solving its diversity problem. But as the latest PRWeek Diversity Survey shows, much work remains to be done, especially in the areas of recruitment and retention.
More than 85 percent of the survey respondents “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that the industry “has a problem recruiting ethnically diverse professionals,” while 69 percent similarly agreed that the industry “has a problem retaining ethnically diverse professionals.”
Respondents were nearly unanimous in feeling that public relations should “institute more robust programs to recruit and retain diverse talent.”
On the occasion of Black History Month, it seems appropriate to review PRSA’s own record in regard to the public relations industry’s diversity problem.
PRSA’s first diversity outreach happened more than 20 years ago, when a multicultural communications committee was formed. Under the leadership of Debra Miller, APR, Fellow PRSA, the first African American to Chair the PRSA Board of Directors, this committee was elevated to a Professional Interest section—Multicultural Communications—in 1997.
In 2000, PRSA asked industry legend Ofield Dukes, APR, Fellow PRSA, to lead its first official National Diversity Initiative. Mr. Dukes conducted a cross-country Diversity Tour to educate Chapters about diversity and multiculturalism. While the Diversity Tour has evolved somewhat over the years, it continues today in the spirit Mr. Dukes originally put forth.
Three years later, PRSA formed a national Diversity Committee, with the objective of developing a more-inclusive Society by reaching and involving members who represent diverse genders, ethnicities, races, and sexual-orientations, and by providing them with dedicated professional development opportunities and support to help them succeed in public relations.
Among the Diversity Committee’s notable achievements has been the creation of a Diversity Toolkit, to provide Chapters, Districts, and Sections with resources to manage their own diversity initiatives; and a podcast series, “PRSA Diversity Today,” that focuses not only on creating a more diverse industry, but also on multicultural communications, Chapter diversity programming, and corporate best practices in diversity.
With the help of its Diversity Committee, PRSA also instituted a Chapter Diversity Award. This program was created as a way to recognize PRSA Chapters that are embracing diversity and inclusion, raising the bar for other PRSA Chapters and the industry at large.
PRSA also is pleased to be represented by PRSSA chapters at 13 Historically Black Colleges, and at 27 schools that have been accredited by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. We also feature a column on diversity, “Diversity Dimensions,” in each issue of PRSA’s Public Relations Tactics.
PRSA is proud of its leadership in confronting the public relations industry’s diversity problem, but we clearly have a long way to go.
Our own member research shows that, last year, 87 percent of PRSA members were Caucasian. This represents only a six percent increase in minority membership since 2005.
We also pay particular attention to seeking candidates for our Board of Directors who are representative of the ethnic diversity of the profession. And, while our record has been good in this regard—our Board of Directors in recent years has included individuals of African American and Hispanic descent, and individuals of different sexual orientations—we admit falling short at times in identifying more minority candidates who are interested and willing to serve.
Now is the perfect time to remind ourselves that there is much work to be done, and of the need to step up and make a difference.
Toward that end, if you know of minority candidates who are interested in serving PRSA in a leadership capacity—on our Board of Directors, Task Forces or Committees, or at the Chapter, District, or Section level, please reach out on our behalf, offer your encouragement and support, and work with them, and us, to help make a difference.
Michael Cherenson is PRSA’s 2009 Chair and CEO.