It’s very easy to look to a corporate initiative or agency-wide program and feel good about our efforts to diversify our industry. After all, isn’t that how we solved other challenges we faced in our field? If so, why is our country 15% people of color, but only 8% in public relations are? Clearly, what we’re doing isn’t working. And it’s critical we fix it. How can we help our clients tell stories to an increasingly diverse audience if we as an industry are not diverse ourselves?
Diversity in public relations will come when we each take personal responsibility for it on a daily basis. We each need to own it and seek it out one person at a time. That could mean something as simple – and powerful – as having lunch with someone who you might have nothing in common with… on the surface. It means putting yourself in situations where you will meet people who aren’t like you, but who may have an untapped interest or aptitude for public relations.
It means looking for potential employees in places you might not expect to find them. It requires guts, initiative, and creativity – all traits that are the hallmark of communicators. It requires being inquisitive and taking risks. Moving out of your comfort zone and the status quo. Things we ask our clients to do every day. It requires a leap of faith and a dive into the abyss. It’s hard and uncomfortable, but ultimately rewarding.
It’s something we need to think about regularly. We need to examine everything we do and say through that filter. It needs to course through our veins. And it will take time and patience to make real change and progress. It took us a long time to get here and it won’t be a quick journey out of here. It will make us uncomfortable, and we need to be ready for that.
I have succeeded by not making people uncomfortable. By downplaying my minority status. By blending. True diversity comes when people don't have to blend and can be their authentic selves. We need to embrace what makes us uncomfortable in order to understand it. Find what binds us and celebrate what makes us different. As a manager, I had to learn there were many ways to reach the same goal. Embracing diversity is a similar journey. My background, my experience, my uniqueness may lead me to the same place as you, but down a different path. There are insights and perspectives I bring that you can't – and that could help us find a better solution together.
At the core, we are communicators and our audience is increasingly diverse. We need diversity to be better communicators and bring fresh perspectives. I spend time with a variety of people to stay connected. I mentor people – many who look like me and many who don't. I share my experience as one way to success, but not the only way. Diversity is not only about skin color, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. It is also about thought and point of view. It’s about experience and upbringing, as well as education and nationality.
Make yourself uncomfortable. Expose yourself. Be the minority. Don't be afraid to be the only one. That’s when true diversity will become the fabric of our profession.
Anthony A. Harrison is the founder and principal of Sprauve-Harrison Communications in Oakland, California and is a 1981 graduate of Boston University's College of Communication where he earned his BS in Public Relations.
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