Diversity

Diversity in the Age of Obama

Editor’s note: 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 profession. This is the fifth post in the series. A compilation of previous PRSA Black History Month blog posts can be found here.

Since the 2008 election of the first African-American president, there has been a constant drum beat about the emergence of a more tolerant and accepting societal construct where everyone is colorblind and the sophistications of race and background differences are just interesting side notes unworthy of further focus. Now if I had a nickel for each time I’ve heard someone say this, I would be a pretty wealthy guy.

While I would love nothing more than to live in a world that respectfully accepts individualism and uniqueness, I don’t think were completely there yet. That’s not to say we’re not making progress—we are. My trepidation, however, is if we buy into the notion that we’ve arrived at some magical “diversity” destination because we have a president that doesn’t look like those preceding him, it would be a disservice to those struggling and fighting to see themselves in boardrooms and halls of power. If anything, we’ve only just begun.

When people use terms like ‘tolerant’ and ‘colorblind,’ it’s important to ask follow-up questions to understand what those terms look like in action. Is it a world where we join hands and sing Kumbaya or is it a world where everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve goals, no matter the race or background as long as they are willing to work hard and play by the rules? I would argue the former resembles a Hollywood movie where at the end everyone is smiling as Unicorns dash by. The latter takes work—lots of work by lots of people committed to making diversity a way of life. The election of President Obama didn’t change this.

Communicating a strong commitment to diversity should be embraced as a strength, not a burden on society. Two of the most successful businesses in the world—Google and Apple—have each built companies around diversity as a cornerstone of their enterprises. It no surprise they are doing well.

Apple’s commitment started with former CEO Steve Jobs, who not only believed in and respected diversity, he knew it was an important asset for innovation. Google isn’t just committed to diversity within its ranks simply because they believe it would be a nice thing to do, which it would, but also because diversity brings different voices and perspectives to the decision-making table that wouldn’t otherwise have those voices. Both of their bottom lines reflect this commitment. Imagine what could happen if we scaled this up for the rest of America.

The latest Census figures show a country increasingly becoming the melting pot we always thought we were. California, for example is now majority-minority as is Arizona and New Mexico. Other states in the American southwest have had a major influx of Hispanics that have lead to population shifts.

There’s a growing trend of African Americans migrating back to the south to states like North Carolina and Georgia. The Asian American and Native American populations are experiencing dramatic growth. Americans are more accepting of gays and lesbians than ever before.

The changes have embolden these groups to speak up individually and collectively as they too want to see themselves reflected in advertisements, newscasts, network television, movies and yes, the workforce.

Communicating diversity is more important today than it has ever been. A society that ignores this new reality in favor of a sanitized version of the multicultural changes underway does so at its own peril. No nickel needed.

Troy Donté Prestwood is public affairs representative for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities in Washington, D.C., and speaks on all things public relations and  social media on Twitter @TroyDonte.

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