In August, PRSA is celebrating Diversity Month by focusing on the diverse communities, people and practices that comprise public relations. We will also be providing advice and insight on how to build a better PR profession through diversity and inclusion. Here, the Diversity & Inclusion Committee and other PR thought leaders offer their insights on the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace. Join the discussion by following @PRSADiversity and using #PRSADiversity in your social media posts.
I’m not an expert on the topic of diversity, but I am a partner in a midsized, independent communications firm that has made a serious commitment to increasing its staff’s diversity. Diversity is important to us, to our employees — especially the large portion who are millennials — and to our clients. It plays a big role in our company culture, which embraces our individual differences to create a unified team that produces consistently top-notch work.
Why are we committed to diversity? It goes far beyond being “the right thing to do,” Diversity is not about affirmative action or quotas. At the heart of our commitment is a belief that a diverse staff — and the different worldviews, thoughts and opinions it brings — gives us a competitive advantage.
For communications firms, diversifying staffs can be about gender diversity or diversity of geographic and social backgrounds. Let’s be honest, though: Those traits are not what most people are talking about in the diversity discussion, and addressing the topic head-on can be difficult. Our society has been tiptoeing around the issue for decades. But one thing is clear: Diversity doesn’t come and find you; you have to seek it out.
At our firm MP&F Public Relations, we have worked hard to attract and retain minority professionals through internships, job fairs and networking. We started a Diversity Fellowship program that has become an excellent means of connecting with diverse candidates who otherwise might not have considered our firm. We have seen an increase in the number of diverse candidates since launching our fellowship, and we’re proud that our last fellow is now a member of our junior account staff.
I recently attended a diversity talk by Dr. Derrick Gay, an education consultant who works with the children’s television show “Sesame Street.” Rather than seeing diversity as a “preconceived notion of a particular type of person,” he advocates viewing it as “a goal that will add value to society and to individuals” and create “excellence and equity.”
In my opinion, this line of thinking is a good framework for understanding diversity. When agencies apply the principles of excellence and equity to everything they do, including client service and employee recruitment and retention, they create a culture in which diversity can thrive.
Agency owners must remain committed to diversity and to ensuring that their firms reflect the cities in which they do business. Some ideas for achieving those goals:
- Be intentional in your hiring practices. See PRSA’s Diversity Toolkit for guidance on creating diversity programs.
- Set your biases aside. Look to Harvard University’s Project Implicit to learn more.
- Follow diversity experts in PR, including LaTricia Woods, APR, owner of Mahogany Xan Communications in Chandler, Ariz., who recently posted about the economic benefits of diversity at www.caprsa.com; and Patrice Tanaka, who has co-founded three award-winning PR agencies and received the PRSA Foundation’s 2017 Paladin Award for promoting diversity among public relations professionals.
- Partner with firms from different cultural backgrounds on client projects. Doing so not only helps provide quality services, it also expands your staff’s perspectives.
Despite our progress on diversity, MP&F remains a predominately white, female workplace. We know there’s more to be done, but for now we’re embracing the diversity we have as a steppingstone to the future.
Alice Chapman is a partner at MP&F Public Relations in Nashville, Tenn. She serves on the board of the PRSA Counselors Academy. Find her on Twitter @achap.