Editor’s note: In celebration of Black History Month in February, PRSA invited prominent public relations professionals to offer their views and ideas for achieving greater racial and ethnic diversity in the profession as well as what Black History Month means to them. A compilation of previous PRSA Black History Month blog posts can be found here.
When it comes to diversity and the need to see more people of color in the public relations profession, confirmation bias continues to be a part of any speech I deliver or opinion piece I write. Confirmation bias is when you read material, attend events, join organizations or hire employees that match your own background, experience and beliefs. It’s when consciously or subconsciously, you screen out information you might not agree with. Thirty years later, I’m still drawn to the topic when the subject of diversity emerges.
My assignment for this blog was to offer views and ideas for achieving greater racial and ethnic diversity in the profession. My first thoughts were: “Again!?! Is there anything new to say? What has changed since the early 80s when I entered the profession?—not much. I’m tired of the subject.” And, as if by some miracle, I stumbled upon the documentary, “The Road to Brown” which chronicles the life of Charles Hamilton Houston. I was surprised I’d never heard of him.
What drew me in was the subtitle, “The man who ended Jim Crow.” As I learned more about this influential African American, I became mesmerized by his vision and how he flawlessly executed his strategic plan to dismantle Jim Crow. Here was a man who dedicated his every waking hour to freeing his people from the bonds of racism. His message and mission never changed. Tragically, he died of heart failure at the age of 54. At the conclusion of the documentary, and as the credits rolled, I was inspired to write this blog—to deliver the message, again.
Today, we continue to experience the unintended consequences of confirmation bias in our profession — intolerance, indifference and inaction. Thanks to the internet, iPods, DVRs, and Sirius/XM satellite radio, one can have their biases validated daily by self-selection. Because of these biases, we often fail to see what is right in front of us. When you attend an industry event or activity, a staff meeting, or a family function, what is the diversity in the room? To truly embrace diversity, it must become a part of our daily lives, personally and professionally.
Our challenge as individuals and public relations professionals is to create awareness and avoid confirmation bias. As public relations professionals, we must lead by example, and step outside of our comfort zones to maximize our personal potential and the potential of our organizations and clients. It is easy to focus on what feels good and, perhaps, continue to do what has worked for us in the past. But, if we don’t become aware of our own biases and make the necessary changes, we can easily find ourselves without the relationships, the resources and the understanding needed to help our organizations and clients successfully navigate the global marketplace. This is a great opportunity for the public relations professional. If we succeed, we will better serve our organizations, clients and society.
Cheryl I. Procter-Rogers, APR, Fellow PRSA, was the 2006 president and chief executive officer of the Public Relations Society of America. She heads A Step Ahead Public Relations, a Chicago-based firm specializing in corporate and nonprofit strategic communications, public relations, business planning, executive coaching and special event planning.