PR Firms Need to Walk the Walk When it Comes to Diversity and Inclusion

Steve Jobs put it best in when he said: “The more varied the input, the more original the output.” Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) today isn’t just a box to be checked on the corporate to-do list; it’s ultimately what will distinguish those who can attract the best and brightest talent, land top-notch clients, drive innovation and create a brand worthy of a cult following (reference: Glossier).

Oddly enough, for an industry so focused and skilled at shaping public perception and catering to diverse audiences on behalf of clients, the PR industry, on the whole, hasn’t managed itself very well.

As Angela Chitkara, PR track director at the City College of New York, wrote in her HBR op-ed: “racial and gender representation in the industry remains skewed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ethnic makeup of the PR industry in the U.S. is 87.9% white, 8.3% African American, 2.6% Asian American, and 5.7% Hispanic American.”  For comparison, the ethnic makeup of the entire U.S. labor market is 78% white, 12.3% African American, 6.3% Asian and 17.3% Hispanic American. While these number aren’t great either, they go to show just how much catching up the PR industry has to do. Chitkara also notes that, “the pay gap between men and women in PR is $6,000 on average (even when tenure, job type, education, field of study, location, and ethnicity are held constant).”

An industry charged with looking after brands can and must do better than that.

The thing is – the intent is there. According to The Holmes Report, 80 percent of PR professionals said their agencies value ethnic and racial diversity. It’s time for agencies to not just talk the talk but to walk the walk. That doesn’t just mean giving employees off for Martin Luther King Day or posting a blog about International Women’s Day (although both are perfectly apropos) but truly embodying D&I as part of the firm’s core ideology and moral compass.

That’s, of course, easier said than done. Building real D&I into any organization is hard. It must address racism, ageism, gender bias, socioeconomic disparity and so much more. These are complex issues all on their own, so creating a culture, initiatives and policies that address D&I’s multi-faceted prism can seem like an overwhelming undertaking.

There’s a lot of great advice available, but following are a few key efforts to focus on to kick your D&I efforts into full gear:

Start talking

This is the one thing you can start doing right now. Create a dialogue with your employees about what D&I means to them, the issues they are passionate about, what they think the agency can be doing better to address the diversity imbalance. You’ll find once you create a platform to have these discussions people will open up and provide valuable insight that can help shape your approach.

Appoint a D&I Champion

This article from author and CEO Tiffany Jana makes a strong case for hiring a Chief Diversity Officer. It is worth noting that a CDO isn’t a silver bullet for an agency’s diversity challenges; to evoke real change will require a cultural shift in mindset and effort from every part and across every level of the business.

Broaden your hiring pool

Odds are you aren’t going to see a drastic change in your D&I hiring using the same recruitment channels you do today, so expand your talent pool by testing out less familiar waters. This can include non-profits like YearUp, local cultural organizations, and women empowerment groups. Even consider career fairs that aren’t 100 percent PR focused but that have a diverse mix of candidates with the transferable skills (creative thinking, problem solving, storytelling) that all agencies seek.

Make it a sticking point

Make D&I a part of every strategic discussion. When you talk about recruiting talent, growing your client base, setting CSR goals and so on, ask what role D&I plays in each of these areas. By making D&I a permanent talking point within the broader agency conversation, it will remain a priority and not get sidelined by competing business initiatives.

PR still has the chance to take a lead role in championing diversity. So let’s roll up ourselves and get to work.

How is your agency approaching diversity and inclusion in 2019?


-Martha de Labbey