PR Council survey: Minority hiring improving, but advancement is not

The study found significant gaps between black and Hispanic respondents on whether they are making progress moving up the agency ladder and why they leave firms for new jobs.

NEW YORK: Staffers from minority backgrounds believe they are making progress in PR agencies, but promotions to key decision-making roles are elusive, according to research from the PR Council.

The goal of its study was to identify trends and barriers to career advancement and help the industry consider ways to improve inclusion and retention at agencies. Participants included 130 black or African-American and 40 Latino or Hispanic respondents, advanced in their careers, who have left jobs at PR firms in the past four years. ColorComm and LM Strategies partnered with the PR Council on the study, which was conducted last September in the U.S.

"What was most surprising is that the majority of Latino or Hispanic PR pros believe in the last decade that their prospects have progressively improved," said PR Council president Renee Wilson. These responses were in stark contrast to those from black and African-American participants.

Nearly 80% of Latino or Hispanic PR pros said they believe employment prospects have progressively improved in their field in the past decade. Only 53.8% of black or African-American respondents agreed.

Twenty-one percent of Latino or Hispanic respondents said PR pros of the same background are making "great progress" as key decision-makers within agencies, more than double the percentage of black and African-American respondents (8.5%).

The top reason (52.9%) Latino and Hispanic PR pros leave agency jobs is for better positions elsewhere. It was the second-most-commonly cited reason by black and African-American respondents (28.5%) after dissatisfaction with compensation or opportunities for advancement (29.3%).

"I was a little surprised that the findings weren’t far more negative than they were, as to why people left agencies," said Christopher Graves, chairman of the PR Council and global chairman of Ogilvy Public Relations.

He added that retaining PR pros from both groups is a "huge challenge" for the industry, and this study is "just the beginning."

Respondents cited strategies for improving their career and work experiences, including actively recruiting more employees from diverse backgrounds, promoting more often from within, and increasing the capacity of senior staffers to become more open to diverse ideas and cultures.

Based on the findings, the PR Council’s board is advising agency leadership teams to use their influence to advocate for change and put new policies and practices in place. Specifically, the board has recommended business leaders tie the advancement, promotion, or bonuses of senior leadership to the success of team members, including targets for the success of underrepresented PR pros on a senior leader’s team.

"Think of this as a comprehensive solution and not a series of frustrating one-off attempts," said Graves, about the way the PR Council is taking on this issue. "We need to pull lots of people together and look at the whole lifecycle of human beings in our field – from the time they are a student in high school to a college student to an intern to their first, second, and third jobs, to their mid-level career to a senior-level exec who then retires and gives back."

He added that unless the actions of black or African-American and Latino or Hispanic employees are examined at every stage in their careers, the problem will not be fixed. 

To this end, agencies should collect information on hires, tenure, promotions, and exits to analyze what is happening to black and Latino PR pros when they enter and leave a PR firm. The data can inform HR action plans and should be shared and disseminated each year to keep firms transparent, the PR Council said in its report. The Council has also urged firms to establish programs for executive-level coaching, introducing employees to teams, and getting talented professionals on the radar of others at the company.

This year, the PR Council’s diversity initiatives include partnering with the Emma Bowen Foundation, creating a diversity and inclusion resource guide, and developing a webinar series. It also amended its bylaws for the first time in four years to emphasize the importance of strengthening the recruitment and retention of a diverse and inclusive workforce at agencies.

"This year, we are going to launch a comprehensive website where other groups provide best practices, trainings, and learnings so folks can have access to real examples of things that can help them improve the situations at their firms," Wilson added. "We are also going to have a four-part webinar series that the PR Council will provide to the industry, and we will have an unconscious bias workshop in August."

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