Diversity and inclusion at PRSA New York

PRSA-NY is addressing D&I not by talking, but by acting says president-elect Andrew Graham.

Andrew Graham, president-elect of PRSA-NY. (Image via Clear)
Andrew Graham, president-elect of PRSA-NY. (Image via Clear)

In 2020, the public relations profession has shown that it's at its best when the challenges the world faces are at their worst. I have witnessed practitioners use their media savvy, their powers of persuasion, and their professional relationships to challenge colleagues and clients to take actions that will put them on the right side of history. Our industry is no longer content with just talking.

As an industry, we have had every opportunity to quit this year; to become exhausted and negative or to lose enthusiasm for what we do. But we've kept moving forward for our clients, our communities, and society at large. This speaks volumes about the future of the profession.

As the 2021 president of the Public Relations Society of America's New York (PRSA-NY) chapter, I've put a lot of consideration into how my board colleagues and I can work together to embody the examples set by the many dedicated PR professionals in our industry. Moving the needle on diversity and inclusion measures is a major initiative, and PRSA-NY is aligned on many elements of that, including an absolutely essential one: We do it not by talking, but by acting.

Let me begin by sharing the composition of the 2021 PRSA-NY board. Because of the excellent leadership of 2020 PRSA-NY board officials, including president Kellie Jelencovich and immediate past president Leslie Gottlieb, practitioners of color represent 40% of next year's 20-person board.

We also established three new board positions, including one on the executive committee for D&I, to ensure that the mandate to accelerate diversity and inclusion has a measurable impact within the organization in 2021 and beyond.

Today, the industry is 90% white, with slow growth in other racial demographics, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. While I am mindful that Black and Hispanic representation is not the end-all, be-all of diversity and inclusion, I am confident that the composition of our new board reflects where we are headed as an organization.

Looking ahead, I plan to introduce an amendment that incorporates a gender-neutral pronoun into our chapter's bylaws so that PRSA-NY will formally acknowledge the humanity of people whose gender identities fall outside the binary.

I believe these changes do matter, but I am not content with incrementalism, which is why PRSA-NY will also be replacing the Leadership In Diversity Award category of our Big Apple Awards with a public commendation for every firm or department that chooses to disclose its metrics related to diversity and inclusion.

Our new D&I committee includes industry leaders with proven successes in D&I: Rich Ferraro, chief communications officer at LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD; Rashidah Timothy, VP of media relations at Lippe Taylor; and Brandon Thomas, VP and general manager of PAN Communications.

This team will produce a survey instrument designed to measure and report the diversity and inclusion metrics of a firm or an in-house communications team. Additionally, our D&I committee and our chapter will look to partner with agencies and in-house teams on recruiting and mentoring programs to aid in creating more diverse talent pipelines.

Promoting this initiative will be a major focus for 2021, and recognizing the participants will be among the most important things PRSA-NY does at our annual awards gala next year. We will announce further details soon.

This initiative is a call to action for our industry, and the response to it will be telling. Advertising, tech, and other industries make their diversity data public. It is past time for PR to showcase similar transparency and hold itself accountable for increasing the diversity within our industry.

I would like to emphasize that taking a step towards transparently committing to D&I requires boldness, but it is not a risk. It's a form of leadership, and it is precisely the kind of action worth taking in 2021.

Andrew Graham is a founding partner of Clear, head of communications and public affairs for NYCE Companies, and president-elect of PRSA-NY.

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