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Diversity in PR2

Diversity in PR… a Personal Perspective

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Originally posted on Edelman Editions

This year, Edelman has partnered with the Taylor Bennett Foundation[1] (TBF) internship programme as part of our continuing commitment to diversity and improving access to PR. Taking part in the assessment day two weeks ago, 20 young people from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities carried out interviews, presentations and group tasks for the selection process. As part of the programme, the eight successful interns will be based in our offices in Victoria every Friday for ten weeks, and they’ve just completed their first day with us.

Working for clients such as Microsoft and Aviva to promote their diversity and inclusion programmes means I’ve long been conversant in the diversity agenda and why it makes good business sense. But, my recent involvement with TBF has made me really start to think about diversity in PR and more so about some of the hurdles we as an industry need to overcome.

Last year’s PR Week/PRCA census revealed that despite the industry now employing more than 61,000 professionals, only eight percent of all practitioners come from a black or minority ethnic background. I’m Asian British, and I can honestly say from a personal perspective that I have never felt like a “minority” group throughout my career. We live in a multi-cultural society, and London is so diverse that I can’t say that I’ve noticed or even considered myself in the minority apart from when filling out equal opportunity forms, which I must admit, I don’t like doing. But, speaking to some people at the TBF assessment day, it was clear that they were looking to me for advice about “how I did it” and how I felt about being “different” from the rest. It opened my eyes to a new world – their world, because I didn’t actually see myself as any different from my colleagues.

But if we look at the facts, the distinction is clear – BAME’s are severely under-represented in the industry. So why is it that the PR industry doesn’t attract more people from diverse backgrounds?

Amongst other things, one thing that I think is a huge factor is that PR and Communications isn’t seen as an appealing career choice to people from BAME communities. We know that family and peer groups play a key role in influencing career choices, and in particular, families from BAME communities tend to encourage professions such as accounting and law. I know from experience that Asian communities certainly do this, and PR and Comms just isn’t viewed as a credible industry.

I also think the media plays an important role in building role models in young people and also in raising awareness. But what image does the PR industry have from its portrayal in the media? Ab Fab, the British sitcom starring Jennifer Saunders who plays a heavy drinking, drug abusing PR agent or the more recent Twenty Twelve, starring Siobhan Sharpe as an enthusiastic but useless head of Brand does us no favours. Nor do the general stereotypes associating PR people with spin doctors and the fickle world of celebrities falling out of cabs and the inevitable knickers shot. Perhaps the PR industry as a whole needs a reputation makeover!

The CIPR has recently established a Diversity Working Group to help promote diversity in the profession, but we must be careful not to fall into the dangerous waters of positive discrimination. This isn’t a tick box exercise – diversity in the workplace brings a diverse set of ideas to the table enabling us to offer a better service to our clients. It makes good business sense and it is the right thing to do. But people should be hired on merit and potential, not because of their colour. What I do think needs to happen is raising awareness to BAME communities about the merits of a career in PR in a bid to debunk some of those stereotypes and myths. We need to shine a light on the exciting, rich and rewarding roles you can have as a PR practitioner. As Microsoft goes into schools to highlight the variety of jobs in the IT industry and particularly in attracting girls into the field, perhaps there is something we should be doing as a PR community in a similar vein.

Clearly there is also a need for better recruitment methods and creating a more inclusive working environment for a mixed and diverse workforce. This goes beyond diversity in terms of race, but includes disability – which is very poorly represented in the industry as are women in senior positions – but let’s save that issue for another blog post!

I don’t have all the answers but I do know that we haven’t cracked it yet. It’s encouraging to see the CIPR’s interest in this area, and I’m proud to be involved with the TBF and playing my role in mentoring these young interns. But I’d like to think my involvement is not purely because of the colour of my skin. There is a sense somewhere that only “diverse” people can offer advice and help with diversity programmes, but the reality is, we are all responsible for increasing diversity in the industry. I hope Edelman continues to put diversity at the top of the agenda, reflecting the society from which it recruits from and engages with.

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[1] The Taylor Bennett Foundation has been seeking directly to address the need for greater diversity in the communications & PR industry specifically aimed at black and minority ethnic graduates.

Feature and preview images originally posted on Edelman Editions.

Vicky Gomes is a senior account manager within the London Corporate and Financial team.

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