Recruitment must start early when seeking a diverse staff

At any one of the seven regional roundtables PRWeek hosts throughout the year, there are certain topics that always seem to come up, even when participants aren't prompted by a direct question. One that always generates an animated discussion is the lack of diversity in the industry.

At any one of the seven regional roundtables PRWeek hosts throughout the year, there are certain topics that always seem to come up, even when participants aren't prompted by a direct question. One that always generates an animated discussion is the lack of diversity in the industry. It certainly isn't a new issue. For years, PR pros have been virtually stumped on the question of how to attract and retain a more diverse workforce.

This year's PRWeek/Hill & Knowlton Diversity Survey confirms that it is an ongoing problem. Nearly 50% of corporate respondents and more than 60% of agency respondents still believe the industry has a problem with a lack of diversity.

Certainly there have been efforts by both agencies and corporations to recruit diverse employees. But, as participants in our first-ever Diversity Roundtable noted, those efforts haven't changed much throughout the years, even though the results have been far from overwhelming. Most recruiters have continued with an established model of reaching out to colleges with diverse populations or approaching organizations with diverse membership.

While such efforts are admirable, this approach does not address one of the most important realities: as Natalie Tindall, assistant professor of PR at the University of Oklahoma, noted during the roundtable, "The pipeline for talent does not appear magically at the senior year of college."

It's a point that has been raised countless times: the PR industry needs to do a better job of educating younger audiences about the profession as a potential career. This is true for all populations of course, but perhaps even more so for students from multicultural backgrounds.

Among the general public, there is a definite lack of awareness of what exactly PR pros do. And so while it's common to hear a 10-year-old say, "When I grow up, I want to be a doctor," you'll almost never hear someone that age say, "When I grow up, I want to be in PR."

But it doesn't have to be that way. While targeting colleges and universities should still be part of any recruitment initiative, agencies and corporations should also develop programs that reach out to middle and high schools to educate students about the industry and profession. And for companies with offices in major cities, working with public schools can also help target diverse groups.

Such efforts wouldn't require that huge of an investment - the most significant would be time. A couple of days throughout the year where PR practitioners visit a school can ignite an interest in PR that could potentially extend through a student's college career. Also, when the agency or company does come to recruit at a university, there's the chance that the students will already have had an experience with them.

The diversity issue won't be resolved overnight. But if agencies and corporations can commit to making a real investment in the future, then the industry could one day look very different.

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