Diversity Thought Leadership

“Solidifying” Public Relations and Its Professionals Through Diversity

 In celebration of Black History Month, PRSA has invited prominent black leaders in the public relations profession to offer their views on race and public relations and their ideas for achieving greater racial and ethnic diversity in the industry. This is the first in that series.

As a public relations educator, my role is to produce graduates with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in a profession that is multicultural, multifaceted, global and technologically advanced. College classrooms like mine serve as incubators for future leaders, who harbor myriad ideas, opinions and beliefs that — as study abroad and international exchange opportunities continue to grow — are increasingly shaped by the cultures and geographies from which they come.

To succeed and compete, graduates today must learn to see connections among disparate ideas and factors, and to identify new knowledge. Mainstream concepts and practices in many parts of the world — such as integrated planning and management, cross-industrial collaboration and multi-channeling — are making their way into American curricula and business, as our institutions and workplaces are globalized.

I share teaching duties in the business college at a large science and technology-focused university with a physician from Cameroon. He holds a Ph.D. in business management and is “director of medical services, business improvement” for a major health care provider. Between the two of us we have a working knowledge of at least six languages, including Spanish, French, Italian and Swedish, reflecting the many countries in which we have lived, worked, or studied. Our course is titled: “The Business Case for Diversity and Equity: Becoming World-wise.”

Our goal for the course is to encourage future business leaders to be comfortable discussing and modeling leadership on diversity, which we characterize as a “business imperative.” We first discuss diversity in a social and historical context, recalling how this country has benefitted and grown through immigration and the contributions of immigrants (attendance of a Naturalization Ceremony is suggested when logistically possible).

As my colleague and I are both Black, we also openly share our “Black experiences” as a separate and unique set of circumstances and contributions to our personal growth and development: In essence, we all are learning how to effectively “multichannel” resources, experiences, beliefs and ideas. Multi-channeling, which relies on shared knowledge acquired from a multitude of human, scientific and technological sources, is central to business longevity, as the need for — and channels of — communication continue to emerge, change and expand.

Much of what we appreciate about our American lifestyle — from varieties of ethnic and cultural cuisines, fashion and entertainment to travel and tourism to the essence of southern hospitality, for example — are all opportunities for diverse practitioners to contribute creative and unique ideas based on their own culturally relevant experiences. But more importantly, individuals with diverse backgrounds add authenticity and help sustain the cultural lifestyles that these so-called lifestyle industries seek to leverage, imitate, enhance and/or brand.

More and more, programs that focus on community relations and collaboration as part of campus-wide culminating experiences — or service learning — are being added to college curricula throughout the world. Here in the United States, where Blacks and other ethnicities are integral to our communities, opportunities to prepare or further develop beneficial community/workforce partnerships should be encouraged.

Over the course of a typical career, individuals change jobs several times, sometimes transitioning into new roles and foreign locations (worldwide), as dictated by a specific industry’s technological needs, problem-solving inventions or progressive changes. This makes it all the more imperative to embody cross-cultural (and also cross-disciplinary) formats and content in curriculums, mirroring the world’s transitory work environments, and reflecting diversity of not just races and ethnicities, but of personality, skills and viewpoints.

Answers for many of today’s social, religious, political, technological and environmental concerns will come from a collaborative team of next generation practitioners; the more diverse their ethnicities, experiences and interests, the more creative and unique their ideas will be.

Wilma Ruth King is associate professor of public relations at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

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