Public relations is about building relationships between an organization and its audience. Its success hinges on a genuine understanding of diverse communities and cultures. However, the PR business is still grappling with a lack of diversity in its workforce. As an industry, how can we appropriately represent diversity among our clients when it’s not reflected from the inside out?
The problem is simple. As an industry, PR is predominantly white. People of color are particularly underrepresented in leadership positions, but diversity is lacking at nearly every level. It’s not a new problem. The makeup of the PR industry in the U.S. is 82.6% White, 8.1% Black or African Americans, 6.2% Asian Americans and 12.5% Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The gap isn’t even near closed, meaning there’s still much room to grow.
As a person of color, I am drawn to companies with a diverse employee base. When I was interviewing with Crenshaw, one of the first things I noticed was that the leader interviewing me was a man of color – someone who looked like me. As I proceeded in the interview process, I noticed more people in the company like me. It was refreshing and exciting and definitely influenced my decision to join the agency.
Racial inclusivity isn’t the only important aspect of a workplace, however. It’s also vital to be inclusive of culture. Culture is reflected through values, behaviors, beliefs, communication, and thinking; however, cultural representation in the workplace often falls short. Having professionals from a variety of cultural backgrounds brings new perspectives, increases representation and helps protect PR campaigns and initiatives from being tone deaf. When I joined Crenshaw, I noticed a larger mix of culture than any workplace I’ve known, as well as people who shared my culture background.
Often it seems larger companies are the ones making these strides in the workplace, but Crenshaw is proof that you can start small and make a difference. It’s a PR agency with fewer than 25 employees, and more than a third are people of color. It’s a prime example of public relations companies actively working toward a diverse talent pool. In my view, that motivates team members to show up everyday for themselves, their colleagues and clients.
Diversity is attractive to both potential employees and prospective clients because it offers a range of experiences, perspectives and skills that enhance the creativity and effectiveness of an agency’s work. It can also lead to more innovative solutions and better problem-solving.
Internally, a diverse team sends a message that the company values inclusion and is committed to creating that kind of work environment. Today, talented professionals are looking for that kind of culture. When employees feel represented within a company by their colleagues, they are more likely to feel valued and motivated.
Externally, having a workforce that reflects the communities served is beneficial to any PR team because those communities make up our stakeholders and our audiences. Being able to channel first-hand experience to identify different solutions for a company’s diverse audiences not only reflects genuine brand initiatives, but ultimately yields stronger campaigns.
How can we bridge the diversity gap in PR?
The first step is education. The C-suite and HR first need to gain a solid understanding of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and educate from the top down. Diversity training on implicit bias, cultural competency and communication skills is one key to a better workplace. External mentorship can also be beneficial. For example, PRSA has a mentorship program that agencies can use to encourage their employees to connect like-minded individuals in the industry to share experiences, insight and more.
The second step involves recruiting. Agencies should shape their policies to attract a diverse pool of applicants for open positions. This means outreach to organizations that represent diverse communities, specific goals and metrics for recruiting and hiring, and job descriptions that don’t include barriers for diverse candidates.
Third, agencies can reach diverse communities by partnering with groups that represent those communities. Ways to do this include:
Connecting with minority-owned media outlets – this supports minority-owned journalism and helps broaden reach
Engaging with companies striving to increase DEI, like The Party Starter – which connects customers with diverse event vendors and minority-owned businesses – when planning client/company events
Amplifying groups specific to the PR industry, like Digital Culture, a company that helps ad agencies and advertisers reach diverse audiences
The journey continues
PRSA is committed to increasing diverse representation among leadership at all levels of PRSA by 25% by the end of 2023. Programs like Voices4Everyone and the Affinity Group – a space to bring together and amplify the voices of PR professionals in diverse groups like Black Voices and Hispanic-Latino — are current examples. PRSA is putting a clear emphasis on DEI in PR and paving the way for its members to follow suit.
Independent organizations like Crenshaw are taking steps to model diversity with employees and clients. Industry groups like PRSA are vowing to do the same. Together, as an industry, we can make a difference.