This post appears courtesy of The Plank Center for Leadership in PR and the PRSA Foundation.

For the full study please visit The Plank Center for Leadership in PR.

“Knowing where to look and knowing how to recruit and retain a diverse workforce are among the most critical steps in improving diversity. Diversity training, mentoring and organizational changes are also essential elements. And perhaps most important, those in leadership positions must become advocates for diversity.” (PR Coalition, 2005, p. 1)

Why is the PR industry so far behind where it needs to be with D&I? Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan, a PR educator and Plank Center board member, conducted a review that showcases D&I trends throughout the 1990s and 2000s. How has the conversation shifted? The review highlights broad themes and offers suggestions. The common denominator is leadership, and the main take-away from the review is that PR leaders need to step up and get involved.

Executive Summary
A broad review of academic research on D&I in the PR profession since the 1990s revealed some noteworthy trends. A review of key trade press coverage over the last five years was also conducted to further inform the review of academic research. Several themes emerged, most of which indicate that the PR profession is far behind in reflecting the actual diversity in U.S. society. While studies and projections indicate that the population segments currently considered to be minorities will constitute a slim majority in the next few decades, and that diversity enhances innovation and increases productivity, these segments constitute only a little over 10% of the PR workforce. While some progress has been made in terms of recruitment of minorities and advancement of women to more senior executive positions, very little has changed since the 1990s.

Caucasian men still dominate senior positions in firms and corporations, and Caucasian women constitute about 70% of the workforce. While race, ethnicity and gender remain important categories, the definition of diversity needs to broaden to include various types of cultural differences. PR agencies and corporations need to set clear and measurable D&I goals and systematically measure the outcome.

Diversity needs to be a part of organizational culture rather than an add-­on, and accountability is needed for D&I initiatives. Those who are in a position of power need to reevaluate current practices and why things have not changed much in the last two decades. Those in charge of D&I initiatives need to be given more authority, and more resources need to be devoted to D&I goals. Despite slow change though, the good news, according to the review, is that there is now a much greater understanding in the industry that major D&I changes are urgently needed.

It is the “how” part that is the main struggle. More best practices examples are needed from those organizations that have made successful strides in D&I. The theme repeated over and over in the trade press and academic research is that top leadership needs to care and get personally involved in D&I, and that more efforts need to be made to diversify top leadership. Without change in the D&I realm, the PR profession will fall behind other sectors, and its lack of diversity will be increasingly questioned.

Diversity and Inclusion(1)

For the full study please visit The Plank Center for Leadership in PR.


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