Progress on diversity but serious issues remain

The launch of the PRCA's Diversity Network this week can only be good news for an industry striving to open up PR careers to those from a broader range of backgrounds.

Alec Mattinson: 'Perhaps other developments within the industry could even be working against the drive to broaden the talent pool'
Alec Mattinson: 'Perhaps other developments within the industry could even be working against the drive to broaden the talent pool'

The body will hopefully bring an important forum and renewed focus on an area that has already been well served by the, now wound-up, Ignite PR initiative and the CIPR’s Diversity Working Group.

The industry is making progress. At the last count 80 agencies have signed up to the PRCA’s intern campaign and an encouraging 50 PR apprentices have been placed in the first year of its scheme with Pearson.

But the problem remains. The 2011 PRWeek/PRCA census found just eight per cent of those working in PR came from a black or minority ethnic (BME) background and the results proved similarly grim reading for non-graduates.

Equally, launching working groups is no substitute for genuine action – and it is up to all in the industry, including those of us who cover it, to ensure solid progress emerges from these initiatives and promises are monitored.

The Diversity Network’s launch comes as an initiative was trailed by the Government suggesting that listed companies should publish the ethnic breakdown of their workforce. It would be interesting to see if this voluntary code could work within the PR industry – and what it could reveal about the problem the industry faces.

The arguments relating to the importance of true diversity in the industry are as well rehearsed as they are strong. An industry without contributions from people of different ethnicities, gender, social backgrounds, regions, ages and levels of education cannot truly connect with an increasingly diverse public.

But perhaps other developments within the industry could even be working against the drive to broaden the talent pool. The increasingly business-critical nature of reputation has led to calls for the industry to be recognised as a true profession. But it is possible this quest to ‘professionalise’ PR – repositioning it into the echelons of accountancy and law – is unintentionally creating barriers to entry.

Clearly different fields of PR require different skills – but is PR an art and a creative endeavour (as compellingly argued by Frank’s Graham Goodkind) or a professional service that needs specific qualifications and competencies? And does the latter suggest a narrowed focus on those from traditional academic backgrounds?

These questions go to the heart of the nature of the industry. Whatever the answers prove to be, it is imperative everyone works together to solve them.

alec.mattinson@haymarket.com

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