This is a summary of the original journal article found in the Journal of Public Relations Education. The authors would like to thank The Plank Center for funding support and University of Alabama graduate students Alexa Campbell and Derek Hooper for assistance with conducting some of the student interviews.
In 2020, the intersection of COVID-19 and the racial unrest following the killing of George Floyd has sharply refocused our attention on the dire state of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the PR industry. According to available statistics, racial/ethnic diversity is less than 20%, and some figures even suggest as low as 11% (Chikara, 2018). This is not culturally sustainable, especially because the country is diversifying at a fast pace; by 2050, groups currently constituting minoritized groups will collectively be a majority (Lee, 2008). This situation is a business, cultural, and moral problem.
We know that research shows a strong correlation between D&I success and leadership efforts and engagement, but what has not been studied before now is the link between D&I and leadership in relation to PR education. Student leaders of today are the future of the industry and its leadership. The curriculum they encounter and the faculty who educate them shape them for this role.
We conducted a qualitative in-depth interview study of ten PR student leaders dedicated to D&I efforts and ten PR faculty/educator leaders engaged with D&I research and pedagogy to explore if PR education today is equipped to teach students how to be D&I leaders of tomorrow. Data were collected pre-COVID.
Relationship Between Diversity and Inclusion
We found that the participants believe diversity and inclusion are not the same, but interlinked. Definitions, they note, need to be broader, more complex, and flexible to ensure they are inclusive and dynamic to stay relevant with the times. Just recruiting members of underrepresented groups does not mean that diversity will thrive. Interviewees emphasized that structural/cultural changes that support D&I need to occur faster to ensure that our industry accurately represents our diverse society.
State of D&I in the Public Relations Industry: The Role of Leadership
Although participants said there has been some improvement, they clearly believe there is still a long way to go. Both faculty and students expressed how important genuine and authentic D&I engagement from senior leadership is.
Both groups also shared that more D&I content should be included in the public relations curriculum and emphasized the need to hire more diverse faculty and recruit more diverse students. The importance of creating inclusive pedagogical climates was particularly emphasized.
We suggest four strategies for improving the state of D&I across the education-industry continuum:
1.) Organize D&I leadership forums and networks that connect students, faculty/educators, and industry leaders to continue the conversation, strategize change and track the school-to-industry D&I flow.
2.) Develop D&I courses and content. Including just one course on the topic is not enough; D&I needs to be woven into each aspect of the curriculum and inclusive learning environments must be nurtured.
3.) Develop strategies and eliminate barriers for the recruitment and retention of diverse students and faculty.
4.) Enable students within and across institutions to work together to emphasize the importance of D&I, continue the conversation, and educate all involved that D&I knowledge, abilities and skills are necessary entry-level qualifications to reach success.
Currently, the school-to-industry D&I flow is weak, and this has negative implications for the future of our industry. Everyone needs to do their part to commit to D&I, including faculty/educators, students, professionals, and industry leaders.
Bardhan, N., & Gower, K. (2020). Student and faculty/educator views on diversity and inclusion in public relations: The role of leaders in bringing about change. Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 102-141
Chitkara, A. (2018, April 12). PR agencies need to be more diverse and inclusive: Here’s how to start. Harvard Business Review. https:// hbr.org/2018/04/pr-agencies-need-to-be-more-diverse-and- inclusive-heres-how-to-start
Lee, T. (2008). Race, immigration and the identity-to-politics link. Annual Review of Political Science, 11, 457-478.