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Diversity in Public Relations

Towards diversity in pr

If there was one question I had to grapple with during my time as chair of the CIPR’s Diversity Working Group, it has been how we define the success of our work.

Some have said it is all about the numbers. Have we increased the number of practitioners from diverse backgrounds and so changed the homogenous appearance of PR? Alternatively, increasing the number of people interested in a career in PR or better still retaining those already in PR.  Improving the numbers of people from diverse backgrounds in senior positions is another viewpoint.

As you can see there are a number of areas which needed to be tackled and those examples above are not exhaustive.

For me, PR is an industry which talked about communities, audience segmentation and stakeholders research our own industry seemed reluctant and reticent to investigate whether its composition helped or hindered communication to the various communities.

So, the issue was getting people to talk about diversity in PR in the first place. Not just brief mentions or on the fringes but to engage in frank, positive and constructive discourse.

In many ways the Diversity Working Group has helped take diversity in our industry away from the fringes and put it into the mainstream of thinking and planning. To have three major mentions of diversity in a single issue of PRWeek rather than over a course of six months shows how things have progressed.

The February 2014 issue of PR weeks looks at the issue of diversity within the industry while in January it revealed the 15 female mentees who will be entering into a mentoring relationship with a senior female PR.

Looking back on 2013 many would say that those working to improve the diversity of the PR industry have had a strong year.

But like many overnight successes there has been a lot of hard work, struggles and setbacks before we got to where we are today and I think it only right that as I have stepped down as chair of the CIPR’s Diversity Working Group (DWG) that the journey that the DWG and the PR industry has taken over the last few years is understood.

The biggest task was convincing people that the lack of Diversity was an issue which needed to be tackled.  As a similar CIPR initiative failed only a few years earlier that underlined how difficult this was.

Here are some of the challenges we faced at the end of 2009.

  • 4% of practitioners are from minority ethnic groups (CIPR, 2009) compared to 12% in working population of England and Wales.
  • The profession has 65% female practitioners (CIPR, 2009) yet anecdotal evidence suggests that men over-represented at senior levels – e.g. ‘PR Power Book 2008’, 69% of the 457 practitioners listed were male.

So the DWG was set up by Paul Mylrea, then President-elect of CIPR, who suggested it report back before the end of 2010 with key actions on diversity for the PR industry to sign up to

It would also pull together existing evidence of the diversity of the PR profession – identifying the key areas of weakness to be addressed and raise awareness of the value of diversity within the CIPR and wider profession.

As the DWG didn’t start meeting formally until mid-2010, In fact it took the first year or so of its existence to gather evidence, build support and deliver a set of proposals for the CIPR and the wider industry to work towards Diversity

It was Dr Lee Edwards from Manchester Business School who helped our cause. She explored the experience of black and minority ethnic PR professionals in an illuminating piece of research published in 2011. Dr Edwards talked to practitioners about what it was like getting into PR and getting on. Shortly after this research was published Race for Opportunity, a charity supported by Business in the Community, named the media industry – PR and journalism – as the most difficult profession for ethnic minority candidates to find a job.

In order to build a case for diversity, the Diversity Working Group (DWG) launched its ‘Conversation’ with practitioners and the wider public in February 2011. The first event took place at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London with a mixed audience of senior PR professionals and students from the College.

The CIPR ’Diversity Working Group’ worked hard on the ‘Conversation’ aspect of its work. We spoke to educators and students, quizzed recruiters, met with industry experts and had events on disability issues surrounding recruitment and on young people getting into PR

This work identified a number of issues that hold back the recruitment and retention of talent from the widest possible range of backgrounds. These include awareness of PR as a career option, access to careers, recruitment, re-employment and return to work, and the ‘glass ceiling’. This groundwork has led to what has been termed by the group as ‘The Asks’ where we suggested that for the CIPR intends to show pro-active leadership there are five key areas of work it needs to concentrate on

  • Improve understanding of PR in communities in which it is not a visible career option
  • A best practice approach to internships
  • A competence-based approach to recruitment
  • A best practice approach to re-employment and return to work steps to tackle glass ceiling issues.
  • Steps to tackle glass ceiling issues

As well as adding to existing efforts in the profession on diversity, the DWG has also challenged the CIPR to look at itself and commit to change within and to provide leadership on the following:

  • To work towards an inclusive industry-wide approach to improving diversity in PR
  • To look at enshrining the principles of Diversity into both CIPR policy and practice
  • Investigating what resources are available in order to champion diversity

After delivering the ’Asks’ the DWG decided to become a formal working group of the CIPR Policy & Campaigns Committee. As a result;

  • The group became advisory, informing the whole organisation and owned by the whole organisation rather than representing a particular group.
  • The group wold work to mainstream diversity within the CIPR by commenting on and advising the work of the standing committees and their sub-groups.

During 2012, the DWG supported the publication of the CIPR internship and work placement toolkit released. By building bridges, we also worked to secure senior industry buy-in and commitment to achieve tangible and visible change.

We worked even closer with Ignite, which for many years was the leading campaigning group for increasing diversity in PR. We also built links with Edelman who had its own Diversity Taskforce. The CIPR built stronger ties with Taylor Bennett, which with Northern Lights, was working to support BME graduates interested in getting a foothold in PR.

We also developed the Equal Access Network, a series of social/discussion events which encouraged networking among those interested in improving diversity in PR

The DWG were committed to take steps to tackle glass ceiling issues. The CIPR co-published the Hanson search gender balance survey into challenges facing working mothers and supported the work of the 30% Club. Through this we also supported a best practice approach to re-employment and return to work.

We also knew there was a need to prove both tangible support and deliver evidence based research for those who wanted to know if there was a business case for diversity or that there was a pool of diverse talent who did want to enter PR that were not being brought into the PR fold. So we commissioned research in order to improve understanding of PR in communities in which PR is not a visible career option, for use by the CIPR in subsequent years.

In 2013, our Future Perspectives report was released. It set the tone for our work in 2013 will no doubt influence future activities. It highlighted that BME students are as keen as the wider student populace (if not slightly more so) to enter PR. It posed that the question, if that is the case, why is there a drop-off when it comes to entering PR?

Building on the great reception the report received, the CIPR/DWG pushed ahead with a scheme in which volunteers have attended schools to reach school students about to make career choices and ensure that they had a balanced view of what a PR could bring them. Starting in London this is now reaching out across the rest of England.  The CIPR are building on this by targeting 16- to 18-year-olds with workshops in conjunction with the National Citizen Service (NCS).

Secondly, we entered a number of joint ventures with the PRCA with the work on an info guide to help those providing career advice to students a key success. This guide has been downloaded 3000 times from the CIPR website, viewed 2000 times from Slideshare and shared with 3500 members of the Careers Development Institute.

The direct impact the careers pack can have on diversity by reaching those students beyond ‘the usual suspects’ and from regions that have a relatively high BME population cannot be underestimated.

We on the DWG are proud to have initiated the idea and nurtured it. Equally impressive is that 30% of those who have viewed it live outside the UK.

So we came to the end of 2013 with thoughts on how to expand on our success with ideas such as engaging with the parents/guardians of those considering careers in PR and building further partnerships across the industry.

As we look forward (having looked back) I am proud of the work that the DWG has done over that time. Not everything was apparent but all projects need a firm foundation and we put one in place.

And one is needed because the work of the DWG and other similar bodies is not over a long way. The 2013 CIPR State of the Profession report states that of those who declared an ethnicity one per cent is black, two per cent Asian and three per cent other. Compared against the national average, it is obvious there is work to be done but as the PR industry (for all intents and purposes) is based in the capital against London’s own cultural benchmark it is well off the pace.

I have every faith that my successor Catherine Grinyer will continue the work of the DWG and will add to it. The group has discussed a number of ideas which have included:

  • Identify a joint 2014 project for CIPR/PRCA
  • Raising profile of senior people from diverse backgrounds within the CIPR and the PR profession
  • Expanding the school initiative to include parents / guardians

There is a lot of work to be done but equally we have made big strides too, so like a good book we may finish one chapter but we look forward to the beginning of the next.


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