Growing up as the only child of a single mother, a vocational training teacher, I was inculcated with the belief that pursuing a post-secondary education was the main avenue for success in life, preferably by attaining a bachelor’s degree in a field that provided a high return on investment and a feeling of personal satisfaction and accomplishment. I started college at age 17 and majored in communication at a private school in my hometown in Peru.
My career choice was never fully understood among my tíos and tías (uncles and aunts) or even my dad, a man with whom I did not have much contact. Most of my family members hoped I would choose to become a lawyer, while my father had high expectations for me to become a doctor, in his words, “because of the prestige among friends and families, and the financial stability the profession offered.”
Even after I moved to the United States and started earning a degree in communication with an emphasis in public relations, I received criticism and little support regarding my choice of major. This time, though, the criticism came from the relatives I was living with and their Latino friends (my adopted tíos and tías and people I relied on for guidance).
Soon, I realized that the lack of knowledge about public relations and the US educational system was, and still is, an issue for many Latino families. Along with that, many first-generation Latino college students interested in pursuing public relations as a major, including myself, face another struggle: the realization that our academic and career goals may be in conflict with the cultural expectations of our families and cultural surroundings.
Different studies on Latinos and college education suggest that strong family ties and perceived obligations, along with obedience, constitute a liability when choosing a major. Based on anecdotal experience, Marisa Valbona, APR, and Fellow PRSA suggests that “Hispanic and Asian families expect their children to go into finance, law and medicine. If they’re females, academics is an acceptable profession.”
“Hispanics and Asians aren’t exposed to PR as a profession. They don’t understand what it is, and they don’t know PR professionals. For this reason, they don’t encourage their children to pursue careers in PR.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 10.5% of people employed in public relations in 2014 were Hispanics, and as an organization, in 2010, only 3.75% of our membership were Hispanics, 6.5% were African Americans, and 3% were Asian Americans. While these numbers might have increased in the past few years, our commitment to diversity and to shift those demographics are still critical for our industry and our organization.
What can we do?
Focus on action rather than cheap talk.
Last year I came across a post by Tyrus B. Sturgis on the PRSAY blog titled: “The Problem With Diversity In PR: We Talk Too Much.” The article pointed out that as PR professionals we have the ability to brainstorm and share ideas about diversity and how to increase the participation of minority groups in our industry, but that at the end of the day, much of that talk becomes cheap and worthless if we cannot commit to formulate and execute an action plan with attainable and measurable objectives that will meet our goal: to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the PR industry.
– Our daughter organization, PRSSA, is now encouraging its Chapters to execute a high school outreach session to promote public relations as a profession. Reach out to their faculty adviser or board members and offer yourself as a speaker.
– Inquire if your place of employment has an ongoing diversity initiative and offer to volunteer or participate. Many firms and corporations have established ambitious diversity initiatives to address the lack of racial minorities in our industry, while others have adopted a broader approach.
Involve your Chapter in a Diversity Initiative
– Host a high school outreach session like the one described above. This outreach session could lead to a mentorship program. During the session, the hosting Chapter should identify students interested in our profession and offer to guide them in the process of selecting a major.
– Connect with local community colleges in the area and offer to do a presentation on public relations. Battling the lack of education about our industry is a must.
* Also, the PRSA Diversity and Inclusion Committee annually hosts the Diversity Awards to recognize the efforts of local Chapters in increasing diversity. Your Chapter could apply by hosting a diversity initiative between now and July 30, 2016.
Although most of my family is still back in Peru, my involvement in PRSSA (and now in PRSA) and my work with different clients has given them an understanding of PR and its value.
When giving career advice to all of my adopted nephews and nieces here in Utah from the many new relatives I have built ties with in the past few years, I always take the opportunity to talk about my profession.
As it has been said before in our organization, “If we do the right thing, numbers will take care of themselves.”