Cohen: Time for PR industry to 'walk the talk' on diversity

While I was aware of the lack of diversity in PR, I failed to take action.

Joe Cohen
Joe Cohen

Early in my PR career, I volunteered to help run programming for my local PRSA chapter and quickly learned the recipe for creating events that drew crowds. Meet-the-media panels, crisis communications seminars, and awards competitions were a proven draw.  

While I was aware of the lack of diversity in PR, I failed to take action. I focused on what I perceived to be results-generating activations and, looking in the mirror, I didn’t do more than give lip service when it came to addressing the diversity issue.  

It is certainly no secret that ethnic and racial minorities are underrepresented in the communications industry, but the actual numbers are staggering. According to the PRSA Foundation, fewer than 10% of PR pros are black or Hispanic versus 30% of the US population, and growing to more than 50% by 2050.

As well as a moral obligation to address this issue, there is a strong business case to be made. Diversity enriches our perspective and strengthens our companies in a competitive global environment.

This November, PRSA and our friends at the PRSA Foundation are encouraging the industry to come together and "walk the talk" when it comes to diversity. We have renamed November as Diversity Month – a call for professionals across the industry to take tangible actions to address the diversity challenge.

Within PRSA, we are rallying members across our chapters, districts, and professional interest groups to create programming and content centered around diversity, with a call to action to support the efforts of the PRSA Foundation. These initiatives include a partnership with the United Negro College Fund to strengthen the PR programs at historically black colleges.

Other efforts include a bilingual media writing course for Hispanic students, a summer apprenticeship program for school students, outreach to guidance counselors at inner-city high schools and community colleges to help them understand PR, and scholarships to support outstanding students, along with various other programs.

Recently, our profession has made huge strides in demonstrating the tangible value of PR and our ability to deliver bottom-line results. Let’s apply this same mentality to how we tackle diversity. It’s past time we truly challenged ourselves to "walk the talk." 

Joe Cohen is SVP of comms at Kind, and the 2014 PRSA national chair.

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