Diversity and inclusion in PR: The world won't wait for us

Diverse staffing at all levels makes bottom-line, creative, and, ultimately, common sense.

Renee Wilson, PR Council president
Renee Wilson, PR Council president

In April, the Treasury Department announced that Harriet Tubman would be the new face of the $20 bill, making her both the first woman, and black woman, to grace U.S. paper currency. When I heard the news, I thought, "Hallelujah!" My next thought: "Why did this take so long?"

When it comes to diversity in the PR industry, for too long we have suffered from a similar lack of urgency. What’s holding us back? 

Clients won’t wait for us. I know brands and companies around the country are starting to have more conversations with their agencies about the importance of showing up with great talent from heterogeneous backgrounds and cultures. And why wouldn’t they? It makes bottom-line sense, creative sense, and, ultimately, common sense. Consider:

The makeup of the country is changing – and fast. According to the US Census Bureau, by around 2020 more than half of the nation's children (18 and under) are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group. By 2044, no one racial or ethnic group will dominate the U.S. in terms of size.

A jolt of productivity to your business. If someone told you about a surefire way to be more creative and collaborative, wouldn’t you jump at it? The prevailing research and science strongly supports the argument that a diverse workforce is a more productive one. In a recent Harvard Business Review piece, leadership scholar Todd Pittinsky argued that an "Us plus Them" approach at work leads to "more desirable, productive, and innovative outcomes."

In his 2011 article, "How Diversity Leads to Economic Growth," author Richard Florida declared that the creative class is an essential catalyst of economic growth. Creative workers, he wrote, seek tolerant communities that will accept them. The opposite is true of communities that are less tolerant, which invariably struggle to attract creative talent.

Moving forward by aiming higher
This year, the PR Council is moving on multiple fronts to provide more resources and education to make our industry stronger by increasing its diversity. We shared a diversity perception study in April that has given us fresh insights into the agency challenges experienced by black and Hispanic PR practitioners.

The research data will help set our agenda and inform future programming for agencies. This year, we will roll out training and development for agency leaders, while we continue to build the talent pipeline through our relationship with the Emma Bowen Foundation.

To get where we need to go, this must be an industry-wide effort. Therefore, with partners such as the PRSA Foundation and the Arthur W. Page Society, along with experts on this subject in the field, we plan to launch an industry-owned and shared website to provide best practices for all.

Since we started working with PRWeek on the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards in 2011, we have celebrated the accomplishments of many great businesses and individuals. The people we’ve honored are enacting meaningful change – and they have inspired us to do more.  

In 2020, the US Treasury will introduce the Tubman $20s to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women suffrage. That’s great, but we should be cashing in now on the deep pools of untapped talent that will make us a more inclusive, more powerful profession. Let’s get to work!

Renee Wilson is president of the PR Council.

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