LETTERS: Chicago Forum emphasizes how PR must focus more on diversity

Although Chicago has celebrated its great diversity in sports - Michael Jordan and the Bulls and Sammy Sosa and the Cubs - that diversity was conspicuously lacking in the recent PRWeek forum held in the Windy City. There are dozens of highly qualified PR pros in Chicago who are African-American or members of another minority. The problem that PRWeek faced and became a victim of is not peculiar to Chicago. It is an existing problem in many cities that minority PR execs are overlooked because PR agencies don't know where to find them or simply feel just as comfortable maintaining the status quo. The premise of the PRSA's Diversity Initiative is very simple from a business perspective - that in a highly diverse, multi-racial US and global marketplace, diversity is a smart management policy and practice for gaining a competitive edge. One of the PRSA's major goals in its Diversity Initiative is the development of a local and national database of minority PR professionals that would be a ready resource for those seeking a diverse workforce to reach the lucrative $1.3 billion minority consumer market in this country. On behalf of Reed Byrum, president of the PRSA, we invite PRWeek and the PR industry to join us in catching up with many Fortune 500 companies that have mastered the techniques of finding and recruiting highly qualified minorities to increase their profitability. Diversity is now one of America's greatest assets. It should not remain a hidden or overlooked human treasury. Ofield Dukes, Senior counsel, chairman, PRSA Diversity Initiative, Washington, DC
I received a few calls regarding the lack of diversity within the leaders who took part in the recent PRWeek Forum in Chicago. Some have said that a city like Chicago, with over one-third of its population being of African-American descent, should have had at least 33% of the panel be African-American PR pros. Others have said that African-American PR leaders haven't formed good enough relationships with PRWeek and other PR titles to be invited. I think the problem is more troubling: the PR industry has developed some leaders of color, but not enough to mirror the population. In the early '90s, a cover story was written in a top PR trade title regarding the "White Face of PR." Unfortunately, the industry hasn't changed much. I am not talking about the few executives of color sprinkled in agencies around the US or the token representation of the relative few in management positions in corporate America. I speak of true change, where the proportion of PR execs of color match the populations of the cities they serve. When I say executive, I mean VPs and above. We've seen quite a bit of lying with statistics over the years. Corporations, agencies, and other organizations have a responsibility to mirror the communities they serve. As a result, New York PR agencies and corporate communications departments in other major cities should be ashamed. With almost three quarters of the population of New York City now people of color, we certainly don't see executives of color making up 75% of the management suites in corporations, top PR firms, or other organizations. The word "minority" is no longer acceptable. People of color now are the majority population in many US cities. We need to train many more executives of color in our industry. To do so, we must give young talented PR pros of color the opportunity to reach the executive suites. The door of equal opportunity has not been opened. We must be honest. However, these executive suites must be earned through hard work and excellence, but also with mentoring and guidance. I've been blessed in this industry. People like Harold Burson, Ed Ney, and many others have been mentors since the beginning of my career. As a result, I have excelled, and now sit on the shoulders of both whites and blacks who have been helpful. However, I also worked twice as hard to get where I am today. I send one big question to our industry's leaders: When will diversity move from a token phrase to true diversity in leadership, with individuals of color sharing the executive suites with others in proportion to the populations in the communities our businesses serve? Spin and excuses can no longer be the standard. We must start with truth, honesty, accountability, and humility to facilitate true change. Mike Paul, MGP & Associates PR, New York
As one of your biggest fans, I am extremely disappointed with the lack of diversity at the Chicago Forum. Shame on you! This is the second PRWeek roundtable to have no minority representation - LA was the first. Please let me offer a couple of suggestions. Contact the ethnic trade organizations, such as the Black Public Relations Society, Hispanic Public Relations Society of America, and the Asian American Advertising and Public Relations Alliance for names of individuals. The PRSA and the IABC can supply names of prospective participants. Many senior ethnic PR practitioners are members of one, if not, both groups. You should also establish a list of senior communicators to call upon when doing stories or seeking participants for your conferences. I'm more than willing to provide you this list with input from many colleagues. I hope this doesn't continue to be an issue. Despite the dismal representation of people of color in the PR field, we do exist. Kim Hunter, Lagrant Communications, Los Angeles
PRWeek is to be commended on hosting regional forums in major markets throughout the US. However, when it was recently revealed that the Chicago forum had no African-American representation at the table, and that diversity presence significantly lagged at other PRWeek forums held thus far, it signaled an immediate Orange Alert? It is only natural to ask: How can you host PR regional forums without diverse members of the population present? Antennas were also raised upon hearing this at a time when US demographics are revealing rapid population growth within the African-American, Latino, and Asian markets. The key to success for any diversity initiative lies in becoming culturally sensitive while understanding the importance and value of sharing views from the diverse community. It makes good business sense for all diversity conversation to include participants from that community, as well as the mainstream. The overall outcome will yield solutions that are authentic and inclusive of the diverse population and will provide the foundation for all parties to grow. It is well documented in lawsuits nationwide that companies lacking basic cultural sensitivity suffer bottom-line consequences. Therefore, the goal for our industry is to understand the importance of the role of sincere and authentic diversity initiatives and how to get it right the first time around. We often hear of a well-intentioned firm implementing a diversity program that they abandon the moment problems develop. When there is inclusion at the start and throughout the process, end-results are win-win for all parties. When I recently chatted with George Dumigan of the New Haven Consulting Group in Shelton, CT, Janine Fondon of African-American Newswire, and other experts in the field of diversity training about PRWeek's challenge in finding diverse representation, they were astounded. Dumigan noted that diversity is one of the top issues facing the workforce today and that savvy businesses know that the future depends on change. Fondon said that a city like Chicago offers countless outlets for finding diverse representation, especially since it has an over-51% diverse population, comprised of 26.4% African Americans, 19.9% Latinos, and 5% Asians. How could any diversity roundtable not include people of color when the numbers reveal they are actually Chicago's emerging majority? Realizing the seriousness of this diversity situation, we took a look at some current statistics, which is highly recommended in order to bring the Orange Alert status down to safe levels. US demographics are facing mercurial changes that compel those serious about diversity initiatives to take heed. Statistics indicate:
  • The newly released 2003 Minority Buying Power study issued by the Selig Center at the University of Georgia notes that between 1990-2008 the minority buying power will increase by 148%. The report reveals the 2003 buying power of blacks is $37.8 billion; Latinos, $29.7 billion; and Asians, $15.4 billion.
  • The Latino population in the US is now at 39 million, based on the 2000 US Census. Latinos now represent the largest minority group in the US.
  • The black population is 36.6 million. Asians total 13.1 million. PRWeek's regional forums have the chance to yield vital information key to industry growth. It is imperative that diverse representation is included so that an authentic collective voice responds accordingly. It's now time to take that Orange Alert status down to levels which make good business sense for all. Alicia Evans, The Black Public Relations Society of Greater New York, President & CEO, Total Image Communications

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