This blog post, written by Chuck Wallington, M.S., summarizes research from his publication in the Public Relations Journal. 

Why are there so few African American males working in the public relations industry? According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015), men represent 50.9 percent of those working in the public relations and related services and advertising sector; women represent 49 percent. Of the total number of men, African American men represent 5.9 percent. Of the total number of women, African American women represent 4.7 percent. Over the years, research has been conducted on the relative low number of African American women in the profession. However, little research has been conducted to understand specifically why the number of African American males in the industry is so low. This qualitative research attempts to provide insights into the answers to this question.

Specifically, this research explores the perceptions, experiences and possible barriers for 32 African American males currently working in the field. While the experiences of this limited number of professionals do not illustrate the experiences of all African American males in the business, their insights do provide a glimpse into the barriers, borders and boundaries that many of them face. Some of the barriers cited by these professionals range from a lack of knowledge and understanding among African American male high school and college students about what the public relations profession is, to being an African American male in a Caucasian female-dominated profession that still has a strong Caucasian male influence, to not having a lot of other African American male colleagues for support and friendship. Additional barriers include but are not limited to African American males not having role models and mentors successfully working in the field from whom they can learn, to not having leaders who can help advance their careers.

This research also explores whether the public relations profession is at a competitive disadvantage to other professions by not having a stronger presence of African American male practitioners. The majority of the professionals in this research said that the lack of African American males working in the field does negatively impact the profession. One of the primary ways the profession is impacted is when organizations do not have the ability to tap into the unique perspectives and points of view that African American males can bring to strategic business discussions. These professionals believe that their perspectives add value not only about public relations and communications strategy but also to the overall business strategy. These professionals also believe that their perspectives, along with the thoughts and ideas of others from different backgrounds and experiences, add to the fullness and richness of discussions. Further, they believe that this diversity of thought and experiences more often than not results in an organization and its leaders reaching the best decisions about their customers and the markets they serve. Most of the professionals also agreed that organizations that compete for market share or share of voice in African American communities are at a competitive disadvantage without representation from African American males in their public relations departments. According to these professionals, the presence of an African American male adds value in discussions when an organization is trying to appeal to all consumers, in general, and in particular African American consumers – especially males.

Finally, this research attempts to offer solutions for turning any barriers, real or perceived, into avenues for positive outcomes for African American males in the profession so that they can grow, develop and make meaningful contributions to the industry. These solutions include hiring leaders ensuring that they have diverse slates of candidates when interviewing for open positions; to intentionally providing growth, development and promotional opportunities as well as coaching and mentoring opportunities, to openly and intentionally inviting and listening to the perspectives and points of view of African American males on their teams.

Chuck Wallington is the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing & Communications Officer of Cone Health.In this role, Chuck is now a member of our Enterprise Leadership Team, partnering to set the strategy for Cone Health and serving as one of our system’s key senior leaders. The elevation of this role reflects the strategic importance of marketing and communications to the achievement of our purpose, vision, and strategic priorities. He and his team continue to differentiate Cone Health and build awareness of our services by providing strategic marketing and communications support for our key priorities related to people, culture, patient value, access, and growth.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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