It is 2019: the era of #BlackLivesMatter and #NoBanNoWall. And yet there is an undeniable lack of racial and ethnic diversity within the field of public relations. It seems that many young African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinxs do not see themselves in a public relations career.
I first noticed this lack of diversity in my classes as a business marketing and communication studies undergraduate at San Francisco State University. I continued to notice it as I began my career. For example, I had the opportunity to join Bospar principals Tom Carpenter and Curtis Sparrer at the 2019 U.S. PR Week Awards. And while there were many black suits and gowns, there were far fewer black people.
While it’s true that many white women and members of the LGBTQ community have risen to senior-level positions at some of the biggest and most prestigious advertising, marketing and PR agencies in the business – which is great, and certainly a kind of progress – the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at all levels of the communications industry continues to be our profession’s dirty little secret.
This hasn’t escaped the notice of potential clients and employees, especially Millennials. In a 2016 study conducted by the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and Weber Shandwick, 47% of Millennials said diversity and inclusion is an important factor when searching for jobs because diversity makes for a better place to work, increases opportunities for all employees, and improves employee morale.
So, what’s going wrong here, and how can we fix it? Let’s take a look.
The Big Picture
Our industry is failing to keep pace with the country’s changing demographics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2020, more than a third – 36.5% – of the U.S. population will be non-white. As of 2015, 1 in 7 U.S. infants (14%) were multiracial or multiethnic – nearly triple the share in 1980. By 2055, the U.S. will not even have a single racial or ethnic majority. And according to Pew Research Center, in the coming five decades, the majority of U.S. population growth will be linked to Asian and Latin American immigration.
It is unlikely that we will continue to successfully reach this growing “minority” without more representation in our firms.
According to a report released last year by the City College of New York and The Holmes Report, one of the fundamental challenges is the lack of a singular definition of diversity and inclusion that would serve as a measurable standard across the industry.
Some CEOs say a barrier we’re facing is that our industry does not hold the “competitive financial or professional attraction that other industries, such as law or business, might have for diverse students.”
Time and energy can also be cited as barriers to improving diversity. But is that an acceptable excuse?
We’re all going to need to take a hand in fixing this problem – and it’s in all of our best interests to do it.
PR firms can and should take a leadership role in making our industry more inclusive and diverse. We must recruit, develop and retain talent that will reflect both our clients’ demographics and those of their customers. Consumers want to give their money to a business that cares about social change, yes. But more importantly, they want to give their money to a business that understands their own unique cultural perspective – whichever perspective that is.
Brands should also demand that their agencies adopt diversity and inclusion policies. Or they will simply choose to work with agencies which have already made the investment.
A mounting body of research shows that more diverse companies – including public relations firms – are more successful. According to McKinsey, they are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation; they also enjoy higher levels of productivity and employee satisfaction.
For PR firms and hiring managers, the ability to attract people of color, members of the LGBT community and other non-white heterosexual male job candidates will require commitment from the top of the organizations, stick-to-itiveness and, perhaps most crucially, imagination.
But the bottom line is that diversity is simply good business, and a more diverse team is better able to speak to an increasingly diverse audience.