Diversity PRSA News

Multiculturalism, Diversity and PRSA: Trying Something New

Previously in this space, we wrote about Public Relations’ Diversity Problem, a blog post which we concluded by inviting diverse practitioners to become more involved in PRSA leadership. We’re continuing to make progress on a number of fronts.

At its July meeting, the PRSA board focused on half a dozen important strategic topics, one of which was Diversity. During this session, important questions were raised: How do current tactics connect to a larger strategy and support PRSA’s strategic plan and mission? What are our goals? How do we measure progress? Are sufficient resources available to support such an effort? How do we better respond to our members’ interests in this area?

Board members set about to answer these questions and, by November, had reached several conclusions. 

  • First, the board affirmed that, no matter how much we’ve done, we can do more.
  • Second, we concluded that we need a more strategic approach — one that completely integrates diversity as a focus across the organization. 
  • Third, the board recognized that PRSA’s 2008 member research showed that members rank this issue as a very low priority; at the same time, we confirmed a need to change that ranking, especially given America’s demographic trends.
    *UPDATE: To help put the member research in better perspective, PRSA members were asked to rank the importance of different professional organization attributes on a scale of 1-10. “Promotes diversity” was given a mean score of 6.92, ranking it lower in importance than attributes such as “Provides access to current news and information in the field” (8.91), “Is an advocate for the profession” (8.83), “Facilitates professional networking” (8.63) and “Facilitates mentoring opportunities” (7.31). 
  • Finally, we’ve come to learn that Chapter Diversity leaders don’t make a distinction between recruiting diverse practitioners to PR (something traditionally delegated to the Diversity Committee) and effective communications to reach diverse audiences, which has traditionally been handled by PRSA’s Multicultural Section.

What’s next?
Gary McCormick, PRSA’s 2010 chair and CEO, told the National Assembly in November that Diversity is one of his top five concerns for next year.  Even before assuming the chair he has been moving to appoint diverse leaders as Senior Counsel to our board, and asking them to help connect PRSA to broader communities.

PRSA’s Diversity Committee will have greater influence and access to the PRSA board and staff resources, along with an expanded mandate that advances multicultural communications and practitioners, the LGBT community and the physically challenged.

Supporting diverse interests and thoughts, but united in support of a defined mission, we’ll be more effective and collaborative in setting priorities and determining resource needs. The Committee will meet in early January to begin work.

Finally, our Strategic Planning process for 2010 will entail a major rewrite of one of PRSA’s foundational documents, the PRSA Strategic Plan. Leading this effort will be Rosanna Fiske, PRSA’s 2010 chair-elect, who has long had a passion and provided leadership for diversity in PRSA and the profession.

As we’ve expanded the mandate of our Diversity Committee, we’ve made some other changes. Our Multicultural Section, which has struggled in recent years, will be folded into the Diversity Committee. In 2008, the board set forth goals for PRSA’s Professional Interest Sections, which included member satisfaction, membership levels, benefit delivery and minimal financial targets. Progress toward these goals was discussed regularly with all Section leaders. As PRSA members know, Section membership entails payment of a $60 membership fee, and with Multicultural Section membership dropping to 73 members this month — far below the 200 minimum — the board concluded that a committee would be more effective at reaching more PRSA members on multicultural topics than continuing the Section. Moving the focus to a committee allows us to more effectively reach the entire PRSA membership. This will enhance member participation, quality of programming, visibility and member value. (Similar changes were made to the Corporate Social Responsibility Section, and the Travel and Tourism and Food and Beverage Sections merged.)

As we look ahead to 2010, we plan to be more proactive and inclusive. In the areas of Diversity and Multicultural Communications, which we believe go hand in hand, we want to start by answering the essential questions, and plotting a more defined course involving more of our community — from our 10,000 students across the country, to our most senior practitioners — in the effort.

Lynn D. Appelbaum, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a member of PRSA’s 2009-2010 PRSA Board of Directors, and Board Liaison to the 2009-2010 Diversity Committee.

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