Diverse approach is needed to tackle one of PR's major issues

There are some issues that always seem to generate debate in the PR industry. But perhaps the one that stirs up the most passionate discussion is diversity. It's something that several senior executives in PR are personally committed to, as well as a topic that PRWeek has covered a great deal over the past decade.

There are some issues that always seem to generate debate in the PR industry. But perhaps the one that stirs up the most passionate discussion is diversity. It's something that several senior executives in PR are personally committed to, as well as a topic that PRWeek has covered a great deal over the past decade.

Yet, for all the efforts made to improve the level of diversity among the PR ranks, it has, quite frankly, stumped the industry. Since 2003, PRWeek and Hill & Knowlton have tried to address the topic in the annual Diversity Survey. For the first five years, it polled agency HR managers, agency CEOs, and corporate communications leaders about the level of diversity in their staffs and the efforts they were taking to increase diversity.

Not surprisingly, we found that the results changed little year on year. The level of diversity within firms, and even corporate communications departments, was relatively low and not really representative of the US' rapidly changing demographic. Facing the prospect of reporting survey results that were virtually indistinguishable from last year, we took a different approach.

So, this year, we set out to survey ethnically diverse PR pros about their experiences entering and moving up in the industry. I'd be remiss if I didn't thank Kim Hunter at Lagrant Communications. One of PR's leading proponents for diversity, he and his staff at the Lagrant Foundation provided a great database of PR pros to target for the survey. The Hispanic PR Association also helped get the word out to its members.

The result is the 2008 Diversity Survey, which includes interesting findings on how this group of PR professionals truly feel about the diversity issue. Among the most interesting discoveries are that 66.2% of respondents are satisfied with the level of ethnic diversity on their staff and that 77.6% believe that their senior management is committed to taking action to have a more diverse workforce.

But it's not just the senior executives at firms that bear the responsibility. A common theme from both the survey's multiple choice and open-ended questions is that one of the major barriers that prevent ethnically diverse people from joining and staying in the industry is the lack of role models. For that reason, the article includes sidebars that focus on mentoring relationships. Having a mentor is always helpful, but for those who are a minority both in an industry and within an agency or corporation, that relationship is much more important. The survey shows that 52.8% of respondents have had or have been a mentor, while 60.6% are personally involved in recruiting and retaining talent. That's certainly good news, but even more needs to be done.

No one expects the diversity issue to be solved overnight, but it will take the commitment of those closest to the issue to truly make a difference.

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