Recruiting and Embracing Diversity in the Public Relations Industry

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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 third 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.

Having been a member of PRSA for nearly five years, I’ve always been proud of the fact that our association commits to increasing awareness of diversity on both the national and local levels. PRSA holds diversity workshops and networking events, and it encourages ongoing dialogue through articles, blog posts and online discussion forums. When I was invited to write a guest post for Black History Month, I was honored to get involved and contribute my thoughts on the importance of diversity in our industry.

One might say that it’s imperative to advocate for diversity throughout every area of an organization. While I completely agree and support that view, I would also add that it’s uniquely important in the field of public relations.

As public relations practitioners, we’re charged with representing our organization or clients and communicating with key stakeholders in an authentic, honest voice. With such a critical responsibility on our shoulders, isn’t it better to have people with different backgrounds who can bring more than one perspective and ideas to the table?

Some communications departments or agencies may feel as though it’s challenging to hire staff that reflect the diversity of its internal and external stakeholders. It’s important to remember that we as an industry have to demonstrate commitment to attracting diverse talent. This is rarely accomplished by checking off a few boxes on a “checklist” such as attending minority job fairs or recruiting communications students from historically black colleges and universities. These can be valuable channels for identifying diverse candidates, but true diversity lives outside the boxes of any checklist.

Organizations and agencies should embrace a holistic approach, as one size never truly fits all with respect to finding qualified, diverse recruits. Having worked in some environments that were not as diverse as others, I’ve often been asked why I chose to work for a particular company. For me personally, it’s the type of work, industry reputation and potential for personal and professional growth that attracts me to a company. I have colleagues, however, who feel more comfortable in environments where they are not one of the only minorities. The comfort factor often trumps others.

A great career opportunity and diverse workplace don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but it takes a lot of work to ensure that’s not the case. It’s important to keep this in mind when recruiting minority applicants, because it may be a barrier to overcome in encouraging the candidate to consider joining your communications team.

Sometimes, the best place to look for leads on diverse talent is within the walls of our own companies. Employees with diverse backgrounds may be open to sharing their opinions and ideas on recruitment strategy or referring talent from their alma mater or professional associations. It can also help to ask if these employees are interested in serving as a representative for the organization at career fairs or events where they can speak about their experiences.

I remember feeling inspired when I would hear from public relations leaders at an industry event who also happened to look like me. It helped me to visualize myself in that leadership role in the future. When the speaker discussed his or her positive experiences at a company, I also looked more favorably at the company as a potential place to work. In return, I’ve enjoyed giving back and sharing my experiences with younger practitioners who are entering the field and want the perspective of a diverse employee about the work environment of different companies.

These days, no one doubts the power of word of mouth. That’s why embracing diversity internally is equally important as promoting it externally. Employees serve as the front line and daily ambassadors of our organizations in their local communities.

Establishing a diversity committee or employee-based affinity groups can help to raise awareness about the importance of having an inclusive and accepting work environment. These groups can serve as a resource for professional development and mentoring while also fostering an internal dialogue to increase awareness about different cultures.

By establishing that we care about attracting diverse candidates and embracing diversity in the workplace, we can help ensure that our industry will recruit and retain best-in-class, diverse talent who bring a wide array of viewpoints to the table. As the late publisher Malcolm Forbes once said, diversity is “the art of thinking independently together.”

Tara Smith is coordinator of corporate communications at Time Warner Inc. in New York City. She serves on the Board of Directors of the PRSA-New York Chapter, and is secretary of the chapter.

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Tara Smith


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