Over 20 years ago, I entered the PR profession immediately following undergraduate school at Howard University in Washington, DC. I was fortunate to have a mentor who recommended me for a job at a local PR agency searching for ethnically diverse candidates. At the time, a diverse group of PR practitioners collaborated to form the Minority Affairs Committee within the Public Relations Society of America. While most of the committee members were African American, they were committed to helping the mainstream industry diversify the profession.
Over the years, the committee grew into a professional interest section “designed to focus issues, trends, and research of a specialized practice area.” The section held professional development programs to strengthen members' skill sets, provide networking opportunities, and share best practices. But the section was recently folded into the Diversity Committee, which seemingly means that we've taken a few steps backward versus forward. It's interesting that census data points to the increase in multiculturalism, yet the PR industry lags in diversity.
PRWeek's latest Diversity Survey shows a number of interesting results. Clearly positive strides were made, but surprisingly, some of the same issues that plagued the profession two decades ago remain today. In answering a question about the greatest barriers preventing ethnically diverse professionals from joining and remaining in the PR industry, nearly 50% said there were not enough role models, while 35% said that diverse professionals were not actively recruited.
Regarding retention, more than 50% of the respondents said they believe the industry had a significant or very significant problem in recruiting ethnically diverse professionals and 43% in retaining them.
The only way the profession will truly become diverse is to address issues that strike at the heart of the problem. Have great advancements been made? Absolutely. Are many ethnically diverse practitioners still hired and pigeonholed? Absolutely. Do we all need to do our part in helping to increase diversity among the ranks in our profession? Absolutely.
So what can we all do? Be an active role model and mentor; be comfortable with hiring qualified candidates unlike yourself; include a range of diverse professionals in your everyday work (e.g., ethnicity, age, and gender).
I hope in another two decades these issues will be a thing of the past and our profession will reflect the diversity of our nation.
Lori George Billingsley is director of community and multicultural communications for Coca-Cola North America. She can be reached at email@example.com.