Agencies must find answers for a lack of diversity

The subject of diversity in the PR and communications industries is one we return to again and again here at PRWeek.

The subject of diversity in the PR and communications industries is one we return to again and again here at PRWeek.

Gender is often top of mind, especially given that upward of 60% of PR practitioners are women, even though we know that percentage is not reflected at the upper levels of most PR agencies and in women's pay levels.

But ethnicity is also an issue that has been up for much discussion recently, in light of the latest Census results that once again emphasize the radically changing ethnic makeup of the US population. If communicators are to tell compelling and coherent stories that genuinely speak to the audiences they want to reach, so the argument goes, then they must be truly representative of those audiences themselves.

A glance at the list of PRWeek Awards judges this year shows there are many senior communications professionals from African-American, Hispanic, and other diverse backgrounds working in-house at companies and brands: including Cargill's Mike Fernandez, who served as our judges chair; UPS' Malcolm Berkley; Sears' Shannelle Armstrong; Sodexo's Jaya Bohlmann; MedImmune's Lisa Davis; Verizon's Torod Neptune; and McDonald's former VP of US comms Bill Whitman.

However, looking through the top 12 agency profiles in PRWeek's annual Agency Business Report in this issue, it is noticeable that every single senior executive in the pictures accompanying the articles is white, and all but two are male. Why are there so few non-white faces at senior levels of agencies?

There are many industries that have far worse records on diversity than PR and communications, and there is undoubtedly a lot to be proud of in our sector, but that can't be a cause for complacency.

Diversity is one of the issues the Council of PR Firms is making a priority this year, and that is to be welcomed. It will benefit everyone in the industry if the council manages to stimulate a debate about diversity that engages everyone in the industry and leads to some genuine prospect of change.

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