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 fourth in that series.
Reflecting on the many contributions of African Americans during Black History Month, it is with shameless abandon that I place the spotlight on the public relations profession. I imagine I’d receive no argument from my peers by saying “embracing diversity represents a way of life for an organization, company or individual to ensure long-term success.” My life is enriched, my community is enriched and our nation is enriched when we view our world through the unique prism of diversity.
When I entered this profession in the early 1980s, I was struck by the lack of diversity across all sectors of the public relations arena. Among organizations created to generate a sense of community and elevate the value of my chosen profession, I found no safe haven. Determined to become an insider and grow as a professional, I sampled several groups, finally choosing the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) for its rich resources. In my early twenties, I wasn’t quite sure how to carve out a career path, network with peers or bring more diversity to the profession.
I quickly bonded with PRSA members with similar ethnic backgrounds and found a community committed to moving the needle for inclusion. I felt safe. In a short time, I realized I’d have to step out of my own comfort zone to make a difference. I, too, had to embrace diversity. And, along my journey of 30+ years, I’ve met many other, well-intentioned colleagues and leaders who speak often about the need for more diversity in our profession.
However, time has proven that good intentions are not enough. When it comes to embracing diversity, we must lead by example and serve as the moral compass for our organizations. To be effective, we must be authentic. We speak with conviction because we believe what we say, and we believe what we say because we live it each and every day. To be authentic, we must avoid the traps that bind and blind us.
I often speak of the trap of confirmation bias. This is when we only read material, attend events, join organizations or hire employees that match our own backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. It’s when we screen out information we might not agree with. It’s when we allow our natural inclination to “feel good” to blind our decisions. It’s when we continue to do what has always worked for us in the past, fearing change. If we don’t become aware of our own biases and make the necessary changes, we can easily find ourselves without the relationships, resources and understanding needed to help our organizations and clients realize their diversity mission and goals.
The good news is that the set of values and beliefs that make us invaluable to our employers and clients are the same set of values and beliefs needed to shape and lead diversity strategies in our profession.
If we succeed in embracing diversity individually, we can better serve our organizations, clients and the nation. Doing so is a great opportunity and privilege for every public relations professional!
Cheryl I. Procter-Rogers, APR, Fellow PRSA, is vice president of public relations and communications at DePaul University and former chair & CEO of PRSA.