Last year, PRWeek released an article sharing an analysis of diversity data from its 2020 Agency Business Report. Overall, the data showed that diversity hadn’t been enough of a priority among PR firms over the last five years.
The key message? It was time for PR firms to make real progress on diversity, not just talk about the need for it.
At the same time the country was reeling from a slew of tragic events, as well as severe political division, that spurred us as a society to rally and activate ourselves around long-standing racial, gender and LGBTQ+ inequality. Today, as individuals and businesses alike continue their activism journeys, diversity in the workplace has never been more prevalent. A large task for any business, it can feel like a daunting mountain to climb for industries, like PR, that have historically always struggled to increase workforce diversity.
PRWeek’s 2021 Agency Business Report shows that most agencies have made some progress, but more work needs to be done with many of the biggest US and global firms still only hovering around 20-25% diverse.
Looking at the road ahead, the idea of access, and the role PR firms need to play in creating more access to and from diverse talent pools, will ultimately be what makes the difference and effects real industry change. As a starting point, here are a few ways PR firms can start creating more access to an expanded talent pool.
A lot of PR firms are dedicated to growing their talent, starting someone at the intern level and helping them rise through the ranks as their skill levels increase. So, why not begin diversity expansion at the entry level?
In the U.S. alone, over 122,000 communications degrees were awarded in 2019. Despite some decreases in university enrollment over 2020 due to COVID-related challenges, communications continues to be a common major for many students.
Partnering with universities, both local to your agency’s office locations as well as ones across the country, opens the door to a diverse and unique incoming talent pool. This creates an opportunity to work with professors and department leaders, allowing their students access to roles you are looking to fill. Developing an academic mentorship network is also a great way to expose varying student communities to your workplace. Our PAN Portal Network currently connects us with North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, Elon University and Syracuse University.
PRSA and IPRA are well-known industry associations that have dedicated more programming and resources to DEI initiatives over the years. These associations present a great opportunity for PR professionals at all levels to get involved with the existing PR community on a local, national and international level – a much needed connection for moving the DEI conversation and action along.
Currently, PAN’s VP and General Manager of our New York office, Brandon Thomas, is serving as Associate Director of Diversity & Inclusion on the 2021 PRSA-NY Board of Directors, working with several others from the board to expand the chapter’s DEI mission and vision. Other PRSA chapters around the country have begun following suit, creating DEI-specific board positions to create new programs, educational content and opportunities for the industry to become more diverse.
We’ve also been hyper-focused on finding ways to elevate diverse voices through panels and Q&As with industry thought leaders, university educators and community organizations. We recently held a DEI in the Newsroom roundtable, with the goal of discussing how leaders in the media are helping to make real DEI change through their stories.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that PR can be done from anywhere, at any time, as long as you have a trusty Wi-Fi connection, cell phone reception and a working laptop. Even as more businesses are beginning to implement return to office plans, many employees across the globe have embraced the remote work lifestyle, and want it to remain as an option.
The silver lining here is that remote work has created the ability for PR firms to expand their recruitment efforts well outside the markets where they have physical offices. Being able to expand the talent pool this way naturally creates a direct path for diversity to intersect with your brand journey. Additionally, remote recruiting has allowed companies to start roadmapping where they may want to open a new office in the future and made those efforts a much closer reality than may have been achievable before last year.
While there is still much work to be done in making the PR industry a more diverse place, many in the industry are already executing on their plans to make this a reality. As our CEO, Phil Nardone, previously wrote: DEI is not a box to check. It’s a long-term commitment, a journey, one that requires the entire mindset of the industry to change. The time to take action is now, though, so we can look back in another five years and see only progress.