It’s Time to Address the Lack of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Public Relations

It is 2017, and we are living in the era of #BlackLivesMatters and #NoBanNoWall. Still, there is an undeniable lack of racial and ethnic diversity within the field of public relations. Unfortunately, it seems that many young African-Americans, Asians-Americans, and Latinxs do not see themselves in a public relations career. I see this first hand being a Public Relations and Advertising Master’s candidate at DePaul University where I’ve noticed the lack of diversity in my classes.

It isn’t that there is no diversity in the PR community. Several white women and LGBTQ professionals have senior-level positions at some of the most well-known firms in the world. That is progress, and I am not denying that. Yet, there is still a lack of racial and ethnic diversity in all levels of the PR industry.

Our industry is not reflecting the country’s changing demographics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2020, 36.5 percent of the U.S. population will be comprised of Blacks, Asians/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics/Latinos and Native Americans. With the growth of diversity in the US, the industry needs to adapt to respond to the changing audience. It is very unlikely that we can continue to succeed in reaching out to a minority group without more representation in our firms.

This is an issue that more of our potential clients and employees are starting to be concerned with, especially Millennials. In a study conducted by the Institute for Public Relations and Weber Shandwick, 47% of Millennials believe that diversity and inclusion is an important factor when searching for jobs. This is 14% more than Gen Xers and 10% more than Boomers.

For the next generation that many firms are relying on, diversity and inclusion seems to be an important criterion for job selection. The IPR/Weber survey also shows that Millennials believe that diversity and inclusion make for a better place to work, increases opportunities for all employees, and improves employee morale. For any firm that is looking to keep their employees happy and engaged, hiring diverse employees and focusing on diversity and inclusion initiatives is the way to go.

As an industry, we are doing a better job in recognizing diversity in our target audiences than we are in our employee pool. For instance, for Super Bowl 51 leading brands actively reached out to a more diverse and multicultural market. With campaigns from well-known companies like AirBNB, 84 Lumber, Budweiser, and Coca-Cola showing people of color and taking a stand on political statements, brands are tapping into to the emerging market.

This is the time for PR firms to take a leadership role in changing the face of our industry to make it more inclusive and diverse. We need to recruit, develop, and retain talent that will reflect our client’s demographics. Consumers want to give their money to a business that will not only care about social change, but also understand cultural perspectives.

Brands also should demand that their agencies adopt policies where Diversity & Inclusion is part of their model, and current trends show that they will do so in the future. It is the smart thing to do if they want to continue to grow their business.

Having a more diverse company affects everyone involved. Diverse public relations firms are known to be more successful because of the creative and observant employees they have to offer which also help stakeholders and meet marketplace expectations. More diverse companies, according to McKinsey&Company, are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision-making.

There are plenty of things public relations firms can do to help with the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the field. As a start, firms can look at Weber Shandwick’s example.

Weber Shandwick won the Best PR Firm Diversity Initiative by PR Week in 2015 for their dedication in retaining a diverse workforce. Weber Shandwick partners up with organizations such as The Lagrant Foundation and The United Negro College Fund to continue to recruit younger talent. Their numbers show their progress in this area: 29.6% of 2015 VP/SVP hires were people of color (as of June of 2015), 28.1% of 2015 hires at the entry account director levels, and a third of 2015 promotions into the VP level were also people of color.

It’s time for firms to take a look at themselves and evaluate if they are doing enough to address their lack of racial and ethnic diversity. Understanding is the first step. Now you can start brainstorming ideas and thinking long term on how you can fix the problem. There are many resources to get you started.

For example, Dean Mundy, assistant professor at the University of Oregon, lists 7 ways to be a champion for diversity. He mentions the need to challenge ourselves to take diversity to the next level. Mundy is right, and we also need to step back and take a look at ourselves and know that fighting for a more diversity-focused work environment is not only is it the important thing to do, but it is also the right thing to do.

Aray Rivera is a graduate student at DePaul University studying public relations and advertising. Aray is a first-generation American who was born into a Dominican family and is very passionate about Diversity and Inclusion. Follow him on Twitter @Uhhray.