Editor’s note: In August, PRSA will celebrate PR Diversity Month by focusing on the diverse communities, people and practices that comprise the public relations profession. We will also be providing advice and insight on how to build a better PR industry through diversity and inclusion. We’ve invited PR practitioners and thought leaders to offer their insights on various diversity and inclusion topics important to the PR profession. Follow the series and join the discussion by using the hashtag #PRDiversity. For more information on Diversity Month activities visit the Diversity Month section of the PRSA site.
As a college graduate in the mid 70s, my career focus was on the broadcast industry and any door I could enter. Time and talent worked in my favor even though my chosen path was not easy for a young Black woman wanting to produce television. I matured both personally and professionally, advanced in my career and was recognized for my work. Opportunities grew in broadcasting yet other doors opened in public relations. I chose PR and my experience broadened and career began to flourish.
Along the way I made a stop at a well-respected nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life in communities of color – The Urban League of Greater Hartford.
During my tenure there as director of development and public relations, it was not unusual for the president & CEO to call me into her office to discuss communications strategy for this legacy organization. This day the call to come in the office was brief and sounded a little more stealth. Walking in, I saw a white man, perched on the edge of his chair. Before I learned his name, my boss introduced me, reciting my resume with affirmation and pride.
His only response was, “Where did you come from?” as if a public relations professional of color was an aberration. My only response to him was, “I’ve been here all the time.”
The man on the edge of his seat was the founder and president of the largest advertising agency in the market. Although well connected in his world, he had come to the Urban League after being publicly raked over the cultural coals for not having any semblance of diversity in his agency. He was seeking solace from the Urban League president and guidance out of a tunnel the sector had dug for itself.
The public relations profession might still be in that tunnel… but I believe there is light.
Many of us witnessed, courtesy of YouTube, the bigoted chant from members of a University of Oklahoma fraternity earlier this year. Like many, I was disgusted. What is even scarier is that these soon to be graduates will enter the workforce; some poised by preference to step into jobs several strides ahead of others and making decisions on who gets “into the club.”
We need to ask ourselves the question, “What communities became the foundation for their life experiences?” More importantly, how do we, in our own communities, uphold a life where authenticity and inclusion are parallel to breathing?
In a recent article on race, Kali Holloway, Associate Editor at AlterNet, brings home a truth most of those in the majority would rather not acknowledge. “By something akin to osmosis, culturally held notions around race mold and shape the prejudices of everyone within the dominant culture.”
The walls that seem systematically erected have been built, brick by brick, excuse by excuse with human hands. Using the pretext that you can’t find anyone of color to fill or even interview for a position is just lame and lazy.
Now I don’t want to go too far without commending organizations such as PRSA, the PRSA Foundation and the LAGRANT Foundation who are diligently working to change the complexion of our profession by investing in scholarships and thoughtful, comprehensive programs that benefit non-majority students.
Nevertheless, we have to do better and it has to come from inside our souls.
When you have a truly diverse workplace, which include not only race and sexual orientation but also, education and religion, the value to both person and profession is remarkable. Different points of view serve as a springboard for better decisions. Better decisions breed success.
As a sector, we might still be in a tunnel when it comes to authentic conversations on diversity in our profession. We are working our way out of that tunnel and on the right course.
However, let’s not get all the way down the road and, through ignorance or worse, hear the same statement I uttered over twenty years ago. “I’ve been here all the time.”
Anita Ford Saunders, APR, is Director of Marketing Communications for United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut. Her collaborative work in broadcasting and public relations over her 30-plus year career has earned her three Emmy Awards, Gold and Silver Mercury Awards from the CT Valley Chapter of PRSA, Journalist of the Year from National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), a 1st place award for excellence in journalism from the Society for Professional Journalists and several other community and industry recognitions. Anita holds a B.A. in Communication from American University in Washington, DC and a M.S. in Organizational and Managerial Communication from Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). She is a Life Member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and President of the Epsilon Omicron Omega Chapter of this international service sorority.
Ms. Ford-Saunders is brilliant, as usual, commending the PRSA and PRSA Foundation for the work they are doing, but beautifully articulating that “we have to do better and it has to come from inside our souls.” Some of us are dealing with some ice cold situations, but we’ve learned how to roll, and we’re still standing.