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6 A.M.

Diversity: The Continuing Challenge

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I met yesterday with Dr. Lorraine Branham, Dean of the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University. We discussed the successful internship program that we initiated at Edelman this summer with seven Newhouse students—the Edelman Newhouse Diversity Interns. “The reason that they loved being at Edelman was their complete participation in their account teams. They had real responsibilities, from writing to finding opinion leaders to pitching stories,” she said. Three of them were in New York City, one each in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago and Seattle, working on clients such as eBay, Hilton and J&J. Thanks to Ronny Henry, Maria Rodriguez, Ashley Taveras, Lauren Wint, LaShunda Campbell, Jaleesa Myers and Karla Santiago for their contributions this summer; also let me express appreciation to the mentors who took these Newhouse students under their wings.

The Dean and I agreed that the problem of attracting minority students to public relations firms falls into three categories.  First, the high school students reviewing their educational options do not consider communications. Second, the price point of a quality education can be beyond the wildest dreams of students (Newhouse tuition is $52,000 this year). Third, the students who do make it into the agency business do not stay, opting to go corporate or leave the sector altogether.

Dean Branham is touring the country to attract minority applicants. Her message is that the school can provide partial or full financial support and that the sector is dynamic, full of entrepreneurial vigor. She wants students from both lower and middle class backgrounds. She is also pushing employers in the Syracuse area for job opportunities during the school year and companies like ours to be longer term options.

Her efforts are paying off. When she arrived at Newhouse five years ago, minority students made up only 15 percent of the freshman class. Today that number has risen to 28 percent. And she is not close to satisfied. “We can and must do even better. Why not attract student-athletes to our sports broadcasting program? True, we offer a more rigorous course load than some of the other majors, but we are preparing them for great jobs in the future.”

So let’s assume we attract more minority students into the field. Let’s assume further that we get them into our firms. We still have too much turnover when they reach the account supervisor and VP level. We are going to pay for a study of Newhouse minority graduates of the past decade who have gone into public relations. We will, together with Dean Branham and her Syracuse team, have a clear picture of the career path, with qualitative data on why these students have made specific choices to leave agency for corporate, to move to journalism or to go to business school.

As part of this year’s Edelman-Newhouse Diversity Internship (ENDI) program, the students conducted a survey that provided a look at the evolving state of diversity within the agency’s U.S. offices. Some of the key findings include:

  • In 2012, 21 percent of Edelman’s U.S. population is ethnically diverse
  • There has been a 4 percent increase in employee diversity in mid to senior level management roles from 2000 to 2010
  • There has been a 1 percent increase in employee diversity from 2000 to 2010
  • Since Edelman established the Multicultural practice in 1998, it has grown significantly in the New York office and now has more than 40 employees

Our commitment at Edelman is to build a truly diverse work force, which will provide clients with insights based on experience. It may take me until the end of my career to do so, but so be it.

 

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