Posted At: October 26, 2011 12:57 PM
by Amber M. Parker
The good, the bad and the “different” are captured best in corporate America’s recent “diversity” phenomenon. The sudden move toward racial, ethnic, cultural and gender inclusion may seem commonplace to us in 2011, but this terminology has only been around for roughly the past 20 years.
Some say the shifting U.S population, legal ramifications and a growing disposable income have contributed to the overhauling interest in minority recruitment. The 2010 census revealed that 12.6 percent of the U.S. population is black, 16.3 percent is Hispanic or Latino, 4.8 percent is Asian-American and 72.4 percent is Caucasian.
However, the status quo is in for a rude awakening if diversity grows as predicted within the next 30 to 40 years. Experts expect that by 2050 the Hispanic population will be half of the overall population in the U.S., blacks will rise to 15 percent and Asian-Americans will nearly double to reach about 9 percent.
In addition to shifting demographics, laws have also made diversity a more relevant issue. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Act of 1967 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 required that organizations hold themselves accountable. Now they must examine their actions and determine if change is necessary to achieve compliance with the law.
Not only has there been a shift in the populous and in the court room, minorities are also growing in regards to financial independence, according to the National Communication Association the black consumer market grew at twice the rate of whites in the ’80s and now stands with an increased disposable income of about $800 billion.
With demographics changing so quickly in the U.S., practitioners naturally wonder how the public relations industry is keeping up. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Caucasians comprise nearly 90 percent of public relations specialists employed in the U.S. Seventy percent of PR practitioners are women. This industry has a long way to go toward minority representation.
Why has the job market not kept up with the ever-changing population shifts?
A diversity study conducted by PRSA determined that these disparities share two primary causes: a lack of mentors and a lack of early exposure to PR as a career choice. The average inner-city kid does not typically dream about becoming a PR professional when he grows up and even minorities who grow up in the suburbs are not always aware of the career option.
According to the study, “the biggest barrier was that there were ‘not enough role models,’ with 44 percent of Caucasians, 46 percent of Hispanics, and 62 percent of blacks offering that response.” Additionally, the study showed that “26 percent of Caucasians and 50 percent of non-Caucasians reported that organizations ‘not actively recruiting ethnically diverse students’ was an obstacle.” Based on the statistics it is easy to gather that the PR industry has more work to do if it aspires to create a more colorful corporate mosaic.
Some minority PR professionals argue that despite diversity challenges, inclusion is not an issue.
Kristen McCrae works with the Interpublic Group as an account director for Hill Holliday of New York, New York; she insists, “The very nature of PR requires that people to be inclusive and open minded.” She admits that even though there is a lack of minorities in the field, “the level of inclusion is determined by the organization itself and IPG makes a really strong effort to be multi-cultural.”
Gabrielle Martinez, new media coordinator for the Obama for America Campaign, shared McCrae’s sentiments about her workplace. She said, “I work with great people; inclusion is not a problem.”
What separated these two young ladies from the pack when applying for jobs?
The simple answer is their respective networks. Yes, they were both qualified candidates after graduating from Howard University with high GPAs and a substantial amount of real-world experience, but both of them attributed their success in part to knowing people that worked in the field prior to graduating.
Victoria Kirby, West Central Florida Regional Field Director for the Obama for America Campaign, proved influential for Martinez. She said, “I had no idea what I would do with a degree in communication and culture studies but I had watched Victoria throughout undergrad and after I graduated she moved up and I took her position.”
McCrae expressed her affinity for vice president of the American Advertising Federation Constance Frazier’s leadership after being a student in her class. McCrae said, “Having role models is important. We can’t know everything but through contact with professionals we can learn so much about the industry; they can help you determine how to make our mark.”
At some point, “diversity” as we know it will have to be re-evaluated in a way that emphasizes the need for difference in thought and experience. With an ever-changing demographic, stakeholders will soon be expecting an equally diverse PR base. Will the industry be prepared to rise to the challenge?