THE AGENCY BUSINESS: PR firms seeking staff diversity should follow their clients' lead

In the continuing pursuit for diversity among its employee ranks, Paul Cordasco finds that PR agencies would do well by following the example laid out by some of corporate America's biggest companies.

In the continuing pursuit for diversity among its employee ranks, Paul Cordasco finds that PR agencies would do well by following the example laid out by some of corporate America's biggest companies.

Fannie Mae, Merrill Lynch, American Express, Advanced Micro Devices, AOL Time Warner. What do these firms have in common besides being some of the world's largest and most powerful companies? They all have chief executives that are minorities. While none of these talented and powerful leaders wants to be known solely as a minority CEO, their climbs to the top of the corporate ladder highlight the incredible strides corporate America has made in the past decade to make the workplace a more diverse and culturally rich place. Yet, as a recent PRSA survey on diversity highlighted (click here to see the September 1 story), PR firms have largely been spectators, rather than active participants, to this ennobling change. This observation is not meant as an indictment of the agency world - indeed the entire PR profession is dealing with the issue of attracting and recruiting minorities. (The ethnic makeup of survey respondents alone underscores this problem, as nearly 90% described themselves as Caucasian.) Nevertheless, of the 2,023 survey respondents, only 41% said the agency world has been "somewhat successful" or "very successful" in building diversity in its ranks. That total brings up the rear in the survey and marked the only segment of the PR industry below the 50% mark. Corporations earned 52%, which was ahead of associations (51%), but trailed the much more historically diverse areas of nonprofit (69%) and government (72%). Several factors have likely hindered many agencies in the area of minority hiring and recruiting. Those reasons aside, there's little doubt that smart firms are coming around to the idea that cultural diversity in their ranks is now a business priority. This is laid bare by the fact that corporate America - in other words, the client community - has made diversity a priority and is acting on it. If smart firms have learned anything, it's that it pays to follow client trends. "Companies are realizing that as the US becomes more diverse, they must reflect that in their ranks," says Edie Frazer, who helps run Diversity Best Practices, a consulting group in Washington. "Yet getting there is a competitive journey, and it's not always easy." Frazer's group consults some of the US' largest companies on diversity initiatives, and is about to publish a 700-page primer on corporate diversity. Along with offering many examples of how corporate America is approaching diversity, the primer outlines some basic steps that firms interested in improving diversity within their ranks might want to consider:
  • Set goals. Frazer's group finds that "most companies are truly focused on goals and accountability against their diversity plan for meeting these goals." Consider accounting and professional services firm Deloitte & Touche. As a leader in an industry long dominated by men, the company has embarked on what it calls "Vision 2005." "Advancing women is the new business imperative. Within a supportive, flexible culture, women will be represented proportionately at all levels and hold significant leadership and client-service roles," reads Deloitte's explanation of the initiative. Vision 2005 has set a goal of annual female admission/promotion rate of 35% for partners and directors by 2005, as well as "proportionate representation of women at every level within the firm, including top leadership."
  • Executive engagement. This means senior management should be involved in this process from the outset, and must maintain an active role for any diversity initiative to succeed. At New York Life, the company has instituted a program where at all levels and units its applicant pools are designed to be balanced. On a consistent basis, senior management oversees the company's progress towards this goal.
  • Organizational linkage and on-campus recruiting. PricewaterhouseCoopers says it has increased its on-campus minority hiring by about 300% in recent years while Georgia-Pacific has partnered with both the National Black MBA Association and the National Society of Hispanic MBAs.
  • Hold representative searches. All of the major executive search firms, including the likes of Heidrick & Struggles and Korn Ferry, firms can now offer specialized recruitment searches to make sure a company has a diversified slate of candidates to select from. ----- Achieving staff diversity How some major companies are facilitating greater staff diversity:
  • Deloitte & Touche has set a goal of an annual female admission/promotion rate of 35% for partners and directors by 2005, as well as "proportionate representation of women at every level within the firm."
  • New York Life management oversees the company's goal of assembling balanced applicant pools.
  • Georgia-Pacific has taken strides to ensure organizational linkage and better on-campus recruiting by partnering with both the National Black MBA Association and the National Society of Hispanic MBAs.
  • All of the major executive search firms can now offer specialized recruitment searches to make sure there is a diversified pool of candidates from which agencies can select.

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