This blog is part of a series called The Future of PR Looks Like Us, a meaningful campaign led by a team of Centennial College public relations and corporate communications postgraduate students in partnership with the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms (CCPRF). Our goal is to highlight the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in the public relations (PR) industry.
Centennial College students interviewed public relations professionals, educators, and students about the future of public relations. Participants who shared their perspectives and knowledge on the podcast include:
— Judy Lewis (chair of CCPRF and co-founder and partner of Strategic Objectives)
— Michelle Nguyen (co-founder, lead writer, and social strategist of Super Duper Studios)
— Ananya Mani (senior internal communications specialist of Ingram Micro)
— Gabriel Bedard (human rights and equity advisor and global citizenship education and inclusion [GCEI] instructor and facilitator at Centennial College)
— Jerome Kitenge (a current student of the Centennial College Bachelor of Public Relations program)
Participants discussed the state of the industry and current trends. This conversation detailed how educational institutions are preparing students to contribute to diversity initiatives, how women are creating spaces for themselves in the workforce, and how companies and professionals are creating cultures of inclusivity.
Increasingly aware educational institutions are working towards confronting bias. Gabriel talked about how the GCEI team at Centennial College had previously struggled to get into classrooms to discuss these issues. But now, he said, “we’re being inundated by these asks… from programs and faculty to start talking about inclusion, anti-oppression, anti-racism… these topics are becoming top of mind.”
His team is excited that recent developments are forcing DE&I into the spotlight, providing resources to receptive educators and students. “We can’t expect the workforce to change if we’re not educating diverse students to go in there and help make that change,” said Gabriel.
He suggested that students share their valuable Global Citizen Education training during job interviews, and how it gives them concrete knowledge on DE&I (Centennial College Centre for GCE and Inclusion, 2021). He specifically mentioned how this training equips students with a global mindset and awareness, personal and social responsibility, empathy and global citizenship, strategic communication, intercultural intelligence, and the ability to recognize diverse perspectives.
In addition to these important skills, Judy spoke about how schools can prepare students to project confidence, visibly showing their passion for storytelling and our industry.
“Women are carving out spaces for themselves to have leadership roles.” -Michelle Nguyen
Michelle’s thesis research shows that a lot of women are leaving the traditional industry for freelance, for more control. She adds that women are carving out their own space to become leaders within the industry. The initiative and leadership are inspiring, but still, women must be welcomed and accepted into leadership positions (Koifman, 2018).
The PR industry should begin by “creating cultures that are accepting and welcoming of women having babies and looking after their parents all while striving for senior positions.” Judy raised concerns about women at mid-level fleeing the profession, generally leaving the workforce to never come back (Doolittle and Wang, 2021). Michelle also suggests that breaking down the stereotypes and dispelling the idea that women can do it all perfectly is something that may help create a more supportive culture.
Professionals and Workplace Culture
“I think that the industry is ready and open to change, no question about it.” – Judy Lewis
The growing trend of hiring officers, putting together teams, and distributing resources on diversity in organizations like CCPRF and Strategic Objectives is promising (CCPRF, 2020; Lewis, 2020). Jerome mentioned he was optimistic, even as we “have to hold companies accountable for these things.” Judy touched on the importance of recruiters welcoming applicants with diverse backgrounds and skills – people who are curious, continually learning, confident in their ideas, and aware of the nuanced Canadian landscape. Michelle also brought up the role of managers and employers: in their positions, they can work to make room for diverse juniors, bringing new thoughts and perspectives to the table.
“Pay it forward!” -Ananya Mani
Ananya brings great advice for both emerging and current PR professionals. “We bring unique skills so find those opportunities to mentor someone, but also ask for mentorship.” Mentors don’t always have to be those in executive positions, fulfilling the traditional standards of success. They can guide our journeys in DE&I and anti-racism. Students have so much knowledge and fresh perspectives to offer too. Reverse mentoring empowers emerging leaders, drives cultural change, and breaks down stereotypes that junior communicators have nothing to teach and everything to learn (Jordan and Sorrell, 2019).
The conversation we had with these communicators is perfectly summarized by Jerome’s excitement: “The future of PR…The sky’s the limit, right?” We’re on our way to a more inclusive and diverse future in the industry, yet we have work ahead of us. We encourage everyone to join the discussion.
Centre for Global Citizenship Education (GCE) and Inclusion. (Accessed March 13, 2021). Your job is waiting: Global citizenship and equity skills that prepare you for success. Centennial College.
Koifman, N. (2018, March 19). How to fix PR’s gender imbalance. Strategy.
Doolittle, R. and Wang, C. (2021, January 21). This is the power gap: Explore the investigative series and data. The Globe and Mail.
Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms. (2020, July 10). Canada’s leading public relations firms commit to strategic action against racism.
Lewis, J. (2020, August 25). Diversity and inclusion; fundamental to PR and marketing in Canada. Strategic Objectives.
Jordan, J. and Sorrell, M. (2019, October 3). Why reverse mentoring works and how to do it right. Harvard Business Review.
Before Heiman started at Centennial College, she graduated from Western University with an honours degree in media in the public interest. She tailored her education to focus heavily on activism, learning about marginalized communities and anti-racism work. This passion led to her experience at non-profits organizations writing blog posts, assisting with fundraising events and social media.Twitter: @SarahHeiman98
Daisy Johanna Uy
Uy has cultural acumen from her 10 years of corporate experience in Asia, North America, Europe, the Middle East and Oceania. She holds a B.Sc. in chemical engineering from the University of San Carlos, Philippines, and completed anti-racism and bias training with Brownicity, an American grassroots initiative. Twitter: @IAmDaisyU
With years of corporate, business and hospitality management, Blair has worked and volunteered with not-for-profit organizations throughout her career, committed to supporting diversity and inclusion. A recent graduate of the special event planning program at Centennial College, she returned to complete her studies in public relations. Twitter: @charblair2
Moe holds a bachelor of social science from the University of Ottawa. Her background in outdoor recreation has allowed her to apply her passion for using policy, curated experiences and relationship management for building inclusive and safe spaces for people to experience growth. Twitter: @moe_re_becca