In celebration of Black History Month in February, PRSA 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 sixth in the series.
Like many industries, the public relations field has undergone a transformation around diversity over the last several years. Thanks to focused attention on diversity recruiting and the creation of partnerships with select colleges and universities, barriers have fallen. Today, many public relations firms are more diverse than they have ever been.
Throughout my nearly 20 years in the field, I have watched diversity’s momentum build. This transformation is due in part to a deepening of our collective socio-cultural intelligence. However, another aspect has more pragmatic roots — we know that diversity is good for business. As a global society, diversity is one of the most basic principles that companies can embrace to drive success.
Moving forward, we must address diversity in the context of comprehensive business strategy. Today, being diverse enriches the value that international and regional brands can deliver. Separated and fragmented markets have grown into interrelated communities. The public relations industry has an opportunity to lead by example and reflect how the world is changing. By focusing on our ultimate objective of initiating substantive, long-term and credible change, I believe firms will thrive by seeing diversity for what it is — a strategic business imperative.
In another positive turn, dialogue on diversity flows with much more authenticity than in years past. Previously, the conversation focused solely on the numbers — as opposed to the context — of building a progressive and innovative workplace that unleashes a richer and more relevant business and client proposition.
At Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, we are trying to create a more representative climate within the organization, one that mirrors cultural and demographic dynamics, both domestically and internationally. We believe diversity strengthens our ability to relate to clients and peers in a holistic manner, and to provide truly world-class counsel. This is an essential part of our mission.
As a board member of the LAGRANT Foundation, I often speak to diverse students about how to build a successful career in the public relations industry. Part of my message focuses on building relationships through networking, researching future career aspirations and understanding the value of personal integrity. This is my way of fueling diversity’s growing momentum. Here’s what I tell them:
- Focus on passion first. I think it still begins, as with most things, with figuring out what you’re really passionate about, and then focusing on that as a career. If it’s public relations or something related to the profession, I counsel students to network their way to understanding what the opportunities are, and to create an ecosystem of contacts on whom they can lean for advice, input and career guidance.
- Seek mentors. Like a lot of other people, I’ve benefited from a great group of generous people who have lent their time, expertise and sage counsel to me as I’ve sought input on a number of issues and questions throughout my career. This group has evolved as I have grown in my career, and as my interests and challenges have become more complex.
- Choose support. Although great strides have been made in diversity, not all businesses embrace it. Rather than swim upstream, find an environment that feels supportive and honors different views, cultures and opinions. When you work with colleagues and leaders who understand your value, you are more likely to thrive and grow.
At the end of the day, though, succeeding with diversity is about showing up, doing great work and propelling business in the global economy. In other words, it’s much more than attaining a certain ethnic mix. In my mind, the key is to engender collective perspective, talent and drive to achieve new levels of excellence. I think the industry is already well on its way to making that happen, and I anticipate, with much excitement and admiration, the lengths we will reach.
Torod Neptune is general manager of the Washington, D.C office and senior vice president and global public affairs practice leader at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide.