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DE&I in the Public Relations Workplace

Published on November 20, 2020, at 12:45 p.m.
by Kendal Lambert. 

The Public Relations Society of America website states, “While the practice of public relations in the United States has undergone dramatic changes, a lack of diversity in the communications profession persists.” Diversity, equity and inclusion combined have been a prevalent topic around the country recently. While October, coined Diversity Month, has ended, the DE&I conversation is far from over.

Agencies are now more than ever examining their work environments and seeing where they can improve. Many times lack of diversity in a workplace setting is an unconscious decision that individuals make while hiring. It has been said that we as individuals gravitate toward others who look or act like us. “It is easy to be comfortable with people who are like you,” Robby Johnson, APR, director of marketing and communications at the University of West Alabama, explained. “You don’t have to stretch very much, and it is really just lazy. It is unevolved and does not do much for the long term.”

LaShana Sorrell, director of brand engagement at Vulcan Park & Museum, encourages individuals to take this time to use books as a learning resource.

“I believe we need to have an avid reading list to stay abreast of the issues and opportunities that are available for full exposure beyond the topic of race and ethnicity,” Sorrell stated. “I am currently reading ‘That’s B.S.: How Bias Synapse Disrupts Inclusive Cultures and the Power to Attract Diverse Markets’ by Risha D. Grant.”

Instead of holding DE&I workshops to check off certain boxes, companies should consider taking it a step further and become knowledgeable about the individuals working in their companies.

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

According to data taken in 2019 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees in the advertising, public relations and related services industries are 82.6% white, while African Americans occupy only 8.1% of the industry, and Hispanics make up 6.2%.

When researching for this article, nearby agencies in the Birmingham, Alabama, area were studied. While looking at the tabs titled “Meet Our Team” and “Get to Know Us,” the statistics mentioned above came to life. Most of the teams were across the board white.

Are firms trying to find a more diverse office staff or are they just sticking to the status quo of what their agencies have always been? Some raise the argument that the statistics mentioned above are who is most involved in PR and that finding diversity in the field is difficult.

Samantha Moore, public affairs specialist at Peritus Public Relations, believes that the industry needs to improve in specific ways to create a more diverse workforce. She noted, “The field should challenge itself to listen to diverse voices as we work to strive toward inclusivity and equity.”

One company that is known for hiring diverse people is Apple. Its website, states, “At Apple, we’re not all the same. And that’s our greatest strength. We draw on the differences in who we are, what we’ve experienced, and how we think. Because to create products that serve everyone, we believe in including everyone.”

Each year Apple makes it an initiative to bring in underrepresented minorities. The PR industry can learn from Apple’s strategy and therefore make the field a more diverse and inclusive environment.

In an article by Somen Mondal, analyst Josh Bersin noted, “Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers.” Agencies need to fully understand what diversity and inclusion are to implement it in their businesses.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, diversity is defined as “the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.” Inclusion is defined as “the act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability).”

Implementing diversity and inclusion in a company will ultimately help the business reach more individuals. “As practitioners, we have a duty to be more evolved in our thinking because we are in the business of influencing perceptions,” Johnson asserted.

It has been said that focusing on diversity and inclusion is “not a human resource program, but a business strategy.” When presented with this assessment, Johnson replied, “I believe both of those functions are critical for organizational culture. So, I don’t think it is one or the other.”

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

“An organization’s DE&I efforts must begin with leadership striving for a culture of inclusivity and equity. While HR plays a part in this, I believe there must be buy-in from leadership and all departments,” Moore stated.

The first step in creating a more diverse workplace in the PR industry is for company leaders to be honest with themselves and the business they operate. If a company realizes it does not have much diversity, it needs to address the problem purposefully.

Moore believes that it is each individual’s moral obligation to strive for a more representative workplace every day. Sorrell said, “I believe the problem begins before we make it to the workplace — it begins with the person in the mirror.”

Sorrell and Johnson serve on the board of directors for the Alabama Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America as diversity co-chairs. They are very passionate about this subject and do a great job getting information out to the public relations community. In October, Johnson and Sorrell put together a panel that included University of Alabama professor Dr. Kenon Brown and Cierra Symone Campbell, Miss Renaissance Opulence 2019 and Black Lives Matter activist. The panel was on diversity, equity and inclusion.

As industry professionals, it is important to become self-aware and learn from mistakes.

As Johnson expressed, “This is not a trend or a news topic that we are trying to peg into. It is recognizing where things have gone wrong historically and trying to be better for the future.”

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