Another perspective on being black in PR

Improving diversity in the communications industry is more a marathon than a sprint, says MSLGroup's Nyree Wright.

I recently watched "What It’s Like to Be Black in PR," and I commend PRWeek for broaching a topic pondered regularly by many people of color in the industry.

My career began – yes, career – at Rutgers University. I had an early desire to work in PR and every move I made was toward that goal. I was a member of PRSSA and interned all through college, resulting in a full-time position at a boutique New York City firm. I then worked at top agencies and Fortune 100 companies, and today, I’m a leader at a top five global agency.

The lack of diversity in most workplaces and in this field as a whole is no secret; I was and am more often than not the "only." But, my focus has been on my achievements and to learn from various situations and mentors—male and female, diverse and not—as much as possible. Were there obstacles? Yes. Because of race? I'm certain, in some instances, but I chose to concentrate on turning my experiences into building blocks for success.

There’s a tenacity and fervor needed to thrive in PR, period. However, many people of color have the added obstacle of being overlooked for positions simply because of the bias of decision-makers. This, undoubtedly, has been detrimental to our industry. But I know for a fact that the broader diversity conversation is happening not "only among black people."

Less than one year ago, the ColorComm Conference: C2 Miami convened. The breakfast session included a panel of CEOs from four global agencies, all there to listen and learn from a task force created to emerge and elevate more diverse leaders. Lead by Lisa Osborne Ross, the discussion and engagement of these agency leaders were authentic and are resulting in true accountability of the actions taken by those making top decisions.

There’s the PRSA Foundation, which is dedicated to giving scholarships to diverse students. The PR Council produces the Diversity Census, which provides valuable measurement and metrics on this matter. Then there's the National Black Public Relations Society, Arthur W. Page Society, the Institute for Public Relations, the LaGrant Foundation, and several others all working--and now, many joining forces--to increase and intensify efforts to advance diversity in our sector. And don’t forget the diverse leaders in PR who are putting forth their individual and collective efforts to take on this challenge. I know; I’m one of them.

This is what is happening in our industry. Discussions are morphing into deeds and all in our business see the crucial juncture we have reached. Is there still bias? Absolutely. These issues took years to amass, and they will not be rectified overnight, which I feel many of my less experienced colleagues expect. But while we are all eager to see astonishing change, the reality is this is not a sprint; it’s a marathon that requires the focus, stamina, effrontery, and commitment of all who want to win this race.

Nyree Wright is SVP at MSLGroup in Washington, DC, and a trustee of the PRSA Foundation. She has more than 20 years of integrated marketing communications experience including roles at Ogilvy, Prudential, and the McGinn Group.

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