Diversity PRSA News

PRDiversity: Building a Solid Foundation

Editor’s note: In celebration of Black History Month in February, PRSA invited leaders in the public relations profession to offer their views on diversity and inclusion and their ideas for achieving greater diversity in the industry.

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After dedicating three solid years to the mission of increasing ethnic diversity in the field of Public Relations, the PRSA Foundation still believes that more could – and must – be done.

The problem has been glaringly obvious for some time now. First, there’s a need to recruit practitioners, since the profession has been lagging behind other industry averages and the overall U.S. Department of Labor statistics. Second, the student pipeline also hasn’t been where it needed to be given the increasing diversity exploding on college campuses across America.

To address this problem, the Foundation recently funded two research studies and four recruitment and education programs, spanning high school to graduate level. We branded the collective efforts the PRIME initiative (Public Relations Internship, Mentorship and Education). Already through this effort, more than 130 African American and Hispanic students who might never have taken a look at the PR and communications industry have been exposed to careers in PR.

As a result of one of our studies, a new revelation came to light: Research showed that once diverse candidates settled into their positions, very little was being done to secure that they stay and progress in the field. This led to a huge gap in ethnic diversity in the middle and senior management roles at PR agencies and in Corporate Communication departments.

The study showed that young practitioners (those graduating after 2008) felt that PR was an industry where they could flourish and overall were satisfied with their work communities and the culture supporting diversity. However, they also voiced concerns about retention and job satisfaction due to “perceived racial biases in the workplace.” This study was led by Lynn Appelbaum and Frank Walton and conducted by the faculty from the Department of Media & Communication Arts at the City College of New York, and the complete findings are available at the PRSA Foundation website.

In listening to the tone of respondents, it became clear – especially during the discussions held surrounding the release of this study – that perhaps the pipeline was no longer the most pressing issue.

The PRSA Foundation has since reviewed its strategic vision. We now see an imperative for a more complete plan of action, one that would both fill the pipeline and cultivate the careers of diverse candidates as they advance in the profession.

With this in mind, the Foundation’s Board is now collaborating with other thought-leaders in the industry. We’re conducting a meta-analysis of the tactics in place among agencies and communications departments to identify successes achieved and challenges faced.

I look forward to the results of this effort. At the PRSA Foundation, our goal is to frame the discussion about what can be done in the years to come, as our world becomes increasingly diverse, to ensure that our field can continue to represent the needs of all its stakeholders.

Torod Neptune is Corporate Vice President, Corporate Communications with Verizon Communications, Inc. and the current Board President of the PRSA Foundation. He is also a board member of the Lagrant Foundation. 

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