How to fix PR's diversity problem

The PR industry stands accused of not doing enough to encourage diversity or provide flexible working - and the critics have a point.

Is it healthy that so few people in our industry have a professional qualification? asks Alex Singleton
Is it healthy that so few people in our industry have a professional qualification? asks Alex Singleton
Let’s face it, it’s much easier to rate employees by how many 12-hour days they work, rather than try to measure the quality of their ideas or expertise. 

Indeed, narcissistic colleagues working long hours can easily take credit for the successes that are really down to parents with a better work-life balance.

The root of the problem is that our industry is not very good at objectively assessing the true skill level of employees – or in helping young employees gain them. 

When 21-year-olds join a team where staff are not doing professional development programmes, it’s hardly surprising that they later face a glass ceiling, regardless of their gender, race or sexuality. 

And it’s little wonder, given the lack of learning, that straight, white men from related sectors waltz in and take the senior roles.

Now, it’s true that the industry is actually doing a lot right. It has always been welcoming to women and gay people. 

And many practitioners make it deliver a flexible career: one of the charms of our sector is that the barriers to opening a new agency are low, so many people become independent consultants or run small agencies in the early stages of parenthood. 

Meanwhile, progressive agencies are receptive to remote working.

But there is still a way to go. 

Is it really healthy, for example, that so few people in our industry have any form of professional qualification? 

And despite the rise of continuing professional development schemes in the past couple of years, why do so few agencies and in-house teams make it a mandatory part of employment?

There is also much more that can be done to fix the 'supply-side' problem in recruitment. 

Research shows that minority ethnic young people are actually slightly more aware than white Britons of PR as a career and are more likely to be considering it as a career choice. 

The issue is that parents of minority ethnic teenagers have more of a say over career choices. 

Children are encouraged towards safer, lifelong professions such as law, medicine and accountancy, while PR seems like a flaky option. 

This brings us back to the unsolved problem that the reputation industry still does too little to improve its own reputation.

Meanwhile, many arts graduates think that doing a bit of PR might be fun while figuring out what really to do. 

That certainly brings a useful freshness to the industry, but is the current balance actually in the profession’s long-term interests? 

Isn’t it time to rebalance our recruitment so that there is more emphasis on those who show a commitment to PR (either in education or professional development), or who have qualifications in those sectors in which their employers work? 

Not only would this upskill our sector, it would also help ensure HR decisions are made on merit.

Alex Singleton is associate director of The Whitehouse Consultancy

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