In my time since entering public relations in 2012, I have (somewhat accidentally) noticed an unfortunate consensus amongst PR agencies: there is a major lack of physically disabled people in the industry.
As I thought about it more, I realized I have never once come across another person with a physical disability at an agency, or even when interacting with clients. This is despite my having worked for otherwise diverse agencies in San Diego, Los Angeles, Boston, and New York City and interviewing at the top agencies in these cities. Upon further inquiry, I found that my friends in the industry were experiencing the same.
Recently, I started looking into how disability is talked about the industry and was disappointed to find the topic almost completely forgotten. The majority of top agencies including Edelman, Weber Shandwick, MSLGroup, Ogilvy Public Relations, and more all have wonderful diversity initiatives that target women, LGBT professionals, and people with multicultural backgrounds. These programs aim to increase hiring of minority groups, as well as give them a pathway to success and are helping the industry make progress.
However, with all of these fantastic initiatives, no one has any literature specific to people with disabilities, and they’re missing out on a great potential talent pool.
This isn’t meant to disparage any agency, and PR is not alone – most industries do not include persons with disabilities (PWD) in their diversity initiatives. But I believe the industry is poised to be the leader on this front. Disability knows no gender, skin color, or sexual orientation; we go across demographics and bring a fresh perspective to the teams we’re on. PWD are usually creative problem-solvers and tend not to get easily stressed out, two invaluable traits of a quality PR pro.
To launch a progressive initiative like this, PR firms have the opportunity to band together and say that as an industry, the disabled are a welcome population. Furthermore, disability can be included into the overall diversity language in initiatives, and make recruiting PWD part of the process when attempting to diversify. There is a wealth of smart, educated PWD across America and the unemployment rate for them, yet they are three times as likely to be unemployed than their able-bodied counterparts. This population ends up being overlooked, in part because business leaders are unaware they are there, and unaware of their capabilities.
Not only will this type of initiative help the industry as a whole be viewed as more inclusive and progressive, but it will help attract top young talent. It’s also on the industry to ensure the work environment is such that it welcomes people of all "walks" of life.
Current and potential clients will hear about these efforts as well, and appreciate that agencies are taking stand against a problem in our nation and opening the dialogue on the topic.
We have come a long ways in the last 20 years, but we need to take one more step, and include one of the largest but least visible minorities in the conversation. My hope is this article opens the eyes to executives, recruiters, and industry leaders to help change the conversation.