Beginning a Career in Public Relations

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Diversity and the Public Relations Profession

I just finished reading a June 10, 2005 article on by T.J. DeGoat entitled, “The PR Industry’s Diversity Problem.” The article discusses the results of the 2004-05 survey of multicultural PR practitioners in the United States. The survey was co-authored by Lynn Appelbaum, APR, Associate Professor, Chair, Department of Media and Communication Arts, The City College of New York, and Rochelle Ford, Ph.D., APR, Assistant Professor, Advertising and PR Sequence Coordinator, Howard University. The survey was underwritten by RF Binder Partners.

While the article is copyrighted (and most online content is subscriber-protected), I will share with you a summary and invite your comments. But, first, a few thoughts…

Diversity is not an issue reserved just for mid and/or senior level public relations practitioners or for the public relations industry exclusively. Diversity touches all aspects of our lives and is not limited to the obvious factor of ethnicity alone. We also are diverse in our levels of experience in the industry, our ages, our gender, our geographical locations, the type of public relations we practice, our ideas, thoughts and approaches and the list goes on.

For those new to the public relations profession or those considering a career in public relations, we need to be aware of our diversity challenges and seek to meet them with open minds and a sharing of thoughts and ideas. I am three years into my career and just last month took on the role as chair of PRSA Houston’s Diversity Committee and am honored to work with a diverse group of professionals representing all levels of experience, gender, industry and so forth.

PRSA National has a strong diversity initiative and I believe that PRSA Houston, being located in as diverse a city as Houston, should address diversity and work to incorporate diversity initiatives into all facets of the chapter. Many students can address this within their own PRSSA chapters, as well.

Let’s acknowledge diversity and embrace the ideas and thoughts of our colleagues and those we support within our profession, but let’s not be diverse for diversity’s sake. What I mean is let’s not set a quota to attract XYZ number of Hispanic members, for example, and say, “OK, we’re diverse – mission accomplished. Next.”

While one can’t argue with numbers, we must look beyond and address what we do as a chapter or an organization or a business that will attract a more diverse audience. Are we asking those key audiences what they think of us? Do they know we are here?

The article reports that the survey questioned 132 black, Latino and Asian-American professionals and was conducted online in October 2004 and January 2005. The article reports a 10 percent response rate.

The article reports that the PR industry is “overwhelmingly white and exclusive,” citing “discrimination, lack of mentoring and little interest in diversity among industry executives” as a few problems uncovered in the survey.

Nearly 82 percent of the participants were women, which is representative of the industry's makeup, according to Appelbaum. Three-quarters of respondents were black, about 23 percent were Latino and about 1 percent were Asian American.

Also last week, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Hispanics accounted for about half the U.S. population growth from 2003 to 2004 and the U.S. Hispanic population reached 41.3 million as of July 1, 2004, according to national estimates from the Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau also estimates the number of Asians in the United States at 14 million, up 3.4 percent. Following Asians in terms of growth from 2003 to 2004 were native Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders; American Indians and Alaska natives; and whites.

Back to the article...About half of respondents reported being treated unfairly in the workplace and 40 percent said they had experienced overt discrimination. The most common problem (reported by 62 percent of respondents) was the perception that people of color have to be more qualified for positions than their white counterparts. Additionally, 60 percent of those surveyed said practitioners of color are put on slow-moving career tracks.

About the results, Appelbaum is quoted as saying, "This is a wake-up call for the PR industry to take significant steps to address diversity. While we have begun to talk about how to diversify our work force, industry professionals and HR staffs must take action if we are going to effect meaningful change."

Let the action begin.


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