• Megan Blacher

The importance of diversity in PR

During the past year, we have experienced change, reflection, and redirection. Now more than ever brands are getting exposed for their mistakes and their failure to consider what matters to their audience: diversity and representation in the workplace.

Companies like Bon Appetit have been under a negative spotlight due to their skewed racial representation, and the reluctance to give non-white employees the same opportunities as their white co-workers. Similarly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that almost 88% of PR practitioners are white, suggesting that PR agencies are also in need of change. The data shows it and the PR pros experience it. “There is a lack of diversity across the board no matter how you look at it,” said Joseph Stabb, an assistant professor at SUNY Oswego. What are the possible outcomes of not encouraging diversity in PR? Not encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace can lead to many negative results, including backlash and negative feedback from followers and loyal customers, similar to what Bon Appetit experienced. However, employees can also become affected by their own actions. LaShonda Eaddy, public relations assistant professor at Southern Methodist University, explains that organizations that don’t consider diversity “run the risk of being tone-deaf regarding whatever they’re working on and possibly isolating or excluding some groups.” Diversity doesn’t only matter in terms of sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity. Introducing various opinions, perspectives and experiences into a conversation is key to both the agency and the client for an effective campaign. But the only way to introduce change into all types of organizations is by spreading the word about public relations and what this field entails. The lack of awareness of this profession is leading to a lack of diversity in the classroom and therefore, in organizations, and as Dr. Eaddy claims, it makes them run the risk of being tone-deaf. What steps should we take to move in the right direction? Coming up with a solution to a systematic issue like lack of diversity doesn’t happen overnight, and as Stabb describes it, how to fix it is the million-dollar question. He highlighted the importance of focusing on practitioners of color who made significant contributions to the field of PR as a step in the right direction. “Everyone is always going to talk about Bernays and Lee and traditional old white men that are pillars in the field,” he explained, “but you forget about others who made huge contributions.”

Bayard Rustin, whose event planning model is followed and used today by the PR pros, isn’t mentioned often in the classroom. To Stabb, this not only unmotivates students of color to enter public relations, but it leads them to major in more general areas like marketing or communications.

What’s next?

Being diverse and inclusive in the workplace isn’t a trend. As Dr. Eaddy claims, time will tell which organizations are “committed to making meaningful and impactful changes, and which are only doing it for lip service.”

Change begins with small steps, and the best way to start is with college students. It is undeniably true that lack of knowledge and representation can be daunting to students of color, but being educated is a powerful weapon that can be used to change the industry.

By Megan Blacher

Megan is a senior at San Diego State University, majoring in Journalism and Public Relations. After graduating in May 2021, Megan hopes to work in social media or crisis communication.


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