Supportive Senior Execs are Critical to Building, Retaining Diverse Workforce

PRSA_Foundation Survey FINALSometimes a survey stands alone. Its data is acknowledged and then placed on a shelf to gather dust. Last week’s PRSA Foundation study of the attitudes of young Black and Hispanic PR professionals is meant to kick off a larger effort. The survey of 108 young PR professionals, hired since 2008, and 111 employers found both groups generally sanguine about the industry’s steps toward building a diverse workforce. And most of the young practitioners feel valued in the workplace, says Lynn Applebaum, a professor at City College of New York and a co-principal of the study. 70% say they are given “mainstream accounts,” not pigeonholed into ethnic business, she adds. The largest disagreement was over retention. Nearly 80% of employers felt PR is “very” to “somewhat successful” in retaining a diverse workforce; the young PR pros felt otherwise, with one-third saying the industry is “not successful.” One of the major takeaways, amplified during focus groups, is that young multicultural pros’ daily workplace experience “matters most” in creating a supportive atmosphere, Applebaum says. “41% said their immediate supervisor was one of the most important factors contributing to their success in the workplace. Of that 41%, 20% said it was even more significant if it was somebody of the same ethnicity as them.” Figures were similar when a senior leader is the supportive executive, she says. Both the young pros and employers perceive HR as having “no role” in addressing the daily work experience of the young PR pro. As for the larger picture mentioned above, PRSA Foundation president Louis Capozzi, in a statement, promises to “undertake a comprehensive effort [this year] to aggregate existing industry research into a focused set of options drawing on learnings from other industries as well as from PR companies and leaders.” Even better, he pledges in 2016 to “partner with major industry groups to convene a think tank to laser in on specific actions we can take as an industry to meaningfully address [diversity] … and to continue to monitor and focus on progress toward an industry-wide goal.” PRSA’s next step, Capozzi says, is “making sure that employers are aware of the findings and consider what they mean to their organizations.” Briefings, webinars and presentations to professional association meetings are on the agenda, he says.

This article originally appeared in the October 26, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.