Diverse thinking

Tanya Lewis looks at the PR industry's ongoing pursuit of a diverse workforce

Tanya Lewis looks at the PR industry's ongoing pursuit of a diverse workforce

A diverse workforce is vital to success, yet PR still struggles. White men continue to dominate the C-suite, while women do the same in overall agency populations. Clients often serve very diverse audiences, and most corporate, government, and nonprofit staffs are ahead of firms in this regard.

Recruiters say that almost all clients request diverse candidates, but there are not enough at senior levels.

And while there is growing concern about recruiting young men into the profession and the relative paucity of women at the top of large firms, the primary challenge remains ethnic and racial diversity.

Armando Azarloza, president of the Axis Agency, a division of Weber Shandwick, believes that many firms are out of step with client needs. "It's going to be difficult to provide counsel to our clients who are many times ahead of us in diversity," he says.

Burson-Marsteller clients often want to know that the firm has a multicultural staff, says Michele Chase, MD of US HR. She notes that firms must look for candidates in nontraditional places. "We can always do better at bringing in diverse candidates," she says. "It's important for business success and the culture."

"If you recruit [diverse people, but] can't retain them, you have a problem," says Lagrant Communications president Kim Hunter. "Culture is part of it. We tend to hire people we have similarities with."

Hunter laments that many junior people are in a "revolving door," frequently swapping agencies. "I don't see any building [of diversity in upper levels, nor] any mentoring," he says, adding that large firms that have acquired multicultural agencies can take advantage of synergy and "cross pollinate" staff.

Ongoing practices at Hilton Hotels have helped the hotel chain become highly diverse. Kathy Shepard, corporate communications VP, has a staff of nearly 30 with an "even mixture" of gender and ethnicity.

"We have people representative of our diverse audiences," she says. "It's common sense and [good for] business. Part of our bonuses at the executive level are tied to increasing diversity, and we also have a formalized program that's been in place for almost 10 years."

The early focus of Hilton's diversity committee was on training and bringing in suppliers, vendors, and other partners that were women- or minority-owned. It also helped expand diversity in ownership of its hotels. This year, Hilton launched a GLBT initiative.

For global companies, diversity can also mean creating an environment for local hires around the world. "It's not just having multicultural staff," says James Boyd, VP of PR at Singapore Airlines. "It's how that staff is managed and deploy[ed] to solve problems.

The world is increasingly global and diverse. Huge opportunity [exists] for people with unique backgrounds and skills. It's a broader view of diversity."

But for US-based organizations, traditional diversity issues remain prominent. The workforce at Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is about 23% Asian, 10% African American, and 19% Hispanic. That almost exactly reflects the area's population, and BART's PR team, lead by Linton Johnson, is nearly as varied.

"A diverse staff brings life experience to the table and helps you make decisions that better reflect the people you are serving," he says.

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