Help strengthen diversity in the industry by becoming a mentor

When I was getting my undergraduate degree at Howard University, I had two mentors.

When I was getting my undergraduate degree at Howard University, I had two mentors. One of them was one of my professors, Debra Miller. The other was Ofield Dukes, a PR legend in his own right.

I always tease Miller, saying that she's opened the door to all the jobs I've ever had with her contacts. (Really, it's true!) Dukes agreed to be my mentor, but only after I wrote a five-year career plan that I needed to present to him at our first meeting. Turns out that plan came in handy, and five years later I was able to look back and have the fulfillment of completing all the items listed in it.

Having them both as mentors was invaluable, and it remains so until this day. I'm fortunate in this regard. Many multicultural students and young professionals need mentors today. And they don't have to be multicultural practitioners; they just need to be committed to the success of those they mentor.

As PR practitioners, we have an obligation to ensure that the next generation of professionals are rooted, grounded, and ready to blaze new paths in our industry. The recent PRWeek/Hill & Knowlton Diversity Survey highlighted the continued need for recruitment and retention of multicultural practitioners. Now, more than ever, we all must commit to stepping up our efforts in this area and take on mentoring multicultural students and practitioners.

Many companies have mentoring programs for employees, and everyone should take advantage of those opportunities. They help to guide, nurture, and develop employees so that they can be successful in their respective roles.

In addition to company programs, I have found it invaluable to have a set of informal and formal mentors and mentees, both inside and outside of the workplace. In either case, the roles and responsibilities in the relationship need to be clearly established immediately so everyone knows what's expected of them. As a mentor, you obviously want to be committed, candid, and honest with your mentee, helping them with their career, issues they're facing, and providing general guidance.

So, take the time and make the commitment to mentor a multicultural student or practitioner. Then find a multicultural mentee through your company, industry organizations, or local colleges and universities.

This sounds pretty simple, but sometimes we need practical steps to remind us how easy it is to do the right thing. If you're truly committed to increasing diversity among the PR ranks, then mentoring is one way to show it.

Lori George Billingsley is director of community and multicultural communications for Coca-Cola North America. She can be reached at lbillingsley@na.ko.com.

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