The practice of public relations in the United States has undergone dramatic changes, not only to the ways in which practitioners communicate and do business, but also in the actual demographics of its practitioners. Many studies indicate that the industry still struggles to attract young Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics to pursue public relations as their career of choice, while there is a lack of diversity in management positions industry-wide. Nevertheless, a large number of U.S. corporations and major public relations agencies are making small but impactful changes to transform the industry.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2020, 36.5 percent of the U.S. population will be comprised of Blacks, Asians/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics/Latinos and Native Americans. Just as the industry must adapt to changing technologies, it must also respond to changes in its audience and talent pool.
Although the public relations industry has made some progress in diversifying the demographics of PR professionals to reflect the profile of the nation – and of many of the nation’s leading industries – and the top public relations educational programs have shown a lengthy commitment to diversifying the makeup of the industry, a more concerted effort is needed. While some companies and public relations agencies reflect the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of the overall population, and are walking the diversity talk, it is up to us – the practitioners – to promote, lead and implement this change.
Progress is being made by the PRSA National Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Committee, which is committed to make progress in our Society. Diversity is not only about racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation and gender differences, but also about diversity of skill sets, mindsets and cultures at all levels of the organization.
In 2016, the Committee launched a revised version of the D&I Toolkit, which was presented to the chapters in late spring. As an added bonus, a D&I Checklist was developed to supplement the Toolkit, which chapters can use to assess the steps they need to make their programming and membership more diverse, welcoming and inclusive.
Committee members continuously contribute to PRSA’s blogs and publications, and conduct quarterly Twitter Chats with leading organizations, such as the Hispanic Public Relations Association, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and the National Association of Black Journalists, among others.
The 2016 committee leadership is comprised of: Sheila Tartaglia (chair), Ana Toro, APR, Fellow PRSA (vice-chair), Aerial Ellis (secretary), Kerri Allen, Charla Batey, Y’Anad Burrell, Henry Cervera-Nique, Tiffany Cody, Andrew Cook, Cheryll Forsatz, Angela Hayes, Cambria Jones, Laarni Dacanay, Victoria Lewis, Lisa McKee, APR, James Shackelford, Tyrus Sturgis, Jaron Terry, APR, and Natalie Tindall, PhD (Garland Stansell, APR (Board liaison), Laurent L. Lawrence, APR (PRSA staff liaison).
“Our long-term goal is to help the public relations industry embrace a diverse and inclusive culture for recruitment and retention of talent,” says Tartaglia.
The Committee also promotes awarding the PRSA Chapter Diversity Awards annually during the PRSA International Conference Diversity Mixer.
PRSA promotes diversity and inclusion across its chapters, districts, sections and the profession. To continue PRSA’s mission of “empowering a diverse community of members at every stage of their career with the knowledge and resources to advocate for the profession, achieve ethical and professional excellence, and drive the strategic outcomes of their organizations, the D&I Committee is committed to continue building consciousness by increasing visibility of D&I standards, resources and best practices while supporting PRSA short- and long-term goals.
The Committee is working closely with the PRSA Foundation, which helps drive diversity within the industry of public relations by funding numerous research initiatives from underserved populations, PR firms, and employees. The Foundation also supports numerous D&I programs to attract minority students to communication industry.
The D&I Committee commends PR firms and organizations that have established more diverse workplace environments and to those that established management programs to help minority groups and LGBT practitioners move up the corporate ladder.
To learn more about PRSA resources, chapter initiatives, and Chapter Diversity Awards application information, please visit www.prsa.org/diversity.
To join the PRSA Diversity and Inclusion Committee Twitter chats, follow them at @PRSADiversity.
Ana Toro, APR, Fellow PRSA is a project director at ICF International in Atlanta, GA. She is vice-chair of PRSA’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee, member of the Health Academy and co-chair of PRSA|GA’s Healthcare SIG. During her spare time, she mentors Hispanic students to choose PR as their career of choice. Follow her on Twitter at @anatoro.
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The issue is not that the field is struggling to attract black, Asian and Hispanic people to pursue public relations as their career of choice. The issue is that many employers continue to have racial biases when it comes to hiring practices. The field is roughly two-thirds white female and roughly 90 percent white overall, and as the country becomes increasingly diverse it should be increasingly obvious that the field is largely white by design.
I am a black person with a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications and extensive professional experience, but yet I cannot receive a phone call about positions for which I applied. When I did an interview for a position, the person who said he was the hiring manager had a surprised look on his face when he saw that I am black. He spent a fair amount of the interview questioning my credentials as if I made them up and ended the interview in less than 30 minutes.
Not surprisingly, I did not get the job. But more insulting is that the person who did get the job was a white female who was a LinkedIn connection (she was a subordinate to me at another company) and has an associate’s degree from the University of Phoenix in website design and less than five years of experience. This is the common experience for people of color in all communications fields (journalism, publishing, marketing communications, PR), as all of these fields are disproportionately white with nearly all white management.
So it’s all good to talk about this pie-in-the-sky concept of diversity, but until there is a forced practice (internal or external pressure), then it is nothing but Pollyanna talk by people out of touch with reality.