Advocacy Diversity

State of Diversity in PR: Motivated by the Past & Redefining the Future

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

PRSA is also curating articles and blog posts throughout Black History Month via an open and collaborative wiki. Check out our Black History Month wiki here and add your posts.

I have often been asked to speak or to write about my views regarding diversity and public relations arena and while the terms “rogue” and “maverick” have been bandied about in political circles, it is not used widely within the professional services industry – especially public relations.

In an industry where “bad spin”  does not need clothes tossed in a washing machine, public relations has taken some hits and wrong turns in its efforts to diversify. There are those who “spin” the figures to suggest that the signs are positive for inclusion or that the limited progress and event sponsorships reflect success.

I would encourage public relations practitioners on all sides of the spectrum to not only break bread together, but to break molds and establish new patterns of interaction and engagement. Diversity is not just about having a conference and adding some culture to an annual report. It is more than gender and ethnic inclusion; it’s about reaching out, reaching in and reaching up to exchange ideas, information and insights. With open minds and hearts, the real road to diversity and inclusion will be forged with respect, recognition and responsibility.

For me, I stand on the sidelines in AWE — Advocating While Exasperating — regarding the diversity agenda within public relations. I continue to advocate because I know that there are many qualified public relations professionals who are waiting to bring their “A-game” to the table.

When I became a part of the team that put structure behind the National Black Public Relations Society (NBPRS) as one of its founders, I was motivated by the need to prove that not only could people of color excel in the industry, but we were also capable of wearing hats within public relations and journalism, something that was largely unheard of 20 years ago. Whether the purists were on the public relations side or the journalism side, the argument remained that you could not do both. I developed NBPRS’ diversity platform and served on the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Board of Directors, where I helped others successfully make a transition to public relations and/or enhance their journalism skills.

For some, it’s a difficult process, but not impossible. My ancestors — who learned to read by firelight as slaves, who traveled from the south to the north with no job waiting or travel reimbursements during the Great Migration and walked the streets so I could ride in public transportation anywhere and in any seat — inspired me to believe that the difficult was possible. I have long since proved those critics wrong, and while those of us who have successfully forged dual capacities are few, I am still in AWE regarding the many misperceptions that still remain about the qualifications of diverse public relations candidates.

I find it amazing, and most often insulting, that diverse PR practitioners with years of experience are still placed in low-level positions and internships to “prove themselves” capable for management positions whereas many Caucasian candidates, with little more than a degree and a connection, are fast-tracked into management positions. They often call on the diverse practitioner to do all the work. That is what keeps me exasperated, but fuels my advocacy.

Fortunately, I can still write for a living and maintain a presence in the journalism arena; not to say that the diversity picture is that great there, but this communications “rogue” and media “maverick” knows how to keep my interests in the forefront and to continue making a difference and clearing a path so there is room for others coming behind me because someone laid a path ahead for me. As Bill Clinton said during his first presidential campaign in 1992, “I still believe in a place called hope”; I still believe in the profession designed to relate information about the daily issues and key individuals to an inquiring and global public. Our future success depends on everyone being involved at all levels.

Meta J. Mereday is editor-at-large for Savoy magazine. She is a frequent contributor to PRSA’s Diversity Today Blog, and is a freelance writer, corporate trainer and project developer whose areas of specialization include entrepreneurship, supplier/workforce diversity and nonprofit management. Mereday was a co-founder of the National Black Public Relations Society and served as program chair of the PR Coalition’s 2005 Focus on Diversity Summit.

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