Retaining Diverse Public Relations Practitioners

Some public relations practitioners of color are experiencing the same issues today that researchers documented in the 1980s. These issues may cause them to leave the public relations profession or become owners of public relations firms.

In 1989, Marilyn Kern-Foxworth found that some minority public relations practitioners experienced issues related to racism and prejudice, such as being pigeon-holed to work solely on race-related projects.

Kern-Foxworth also mentioned companies hiring people of color to fill minority quotas.

In 2018, nearly 30 years later, some Black public relations practitioners echoed similar sentiments in a PR Week Black History Month video titled “What it’s like to be black in PR.”

Regarding being pigeon-holed, a female interviewee reported that some Blacks try to shy away from working on multicultural projects and brands. However, doing so is a core competency because they also are capable of working on general projects, she noted.

Regarding quotas, a female interviewee suggested that she would not like to have quotas, but if hiring Black people is not happening organically, quotas could help Blacks get a seat at the table.

In addition to race, socioeconomic status came into play.

Socioeconomic status refers to factors such as education, income, and occupation. For example, some Blacks and Latinos may not fit in because they do not come from affluent backgrounds, did not attend private schools, or did not earn a master’s degree.

The 2018 PR Week video also noted that diversity and inclusion initiatives work for entry-level or middle managers, but not in the leadership ranks. One Black male interviewee discussed being the first and the only Black person in the room.

His experience mirrored the findings in a National Black Public Relations Society (NBPRS) 2015 report. The organization found that 37 percent had no Black female communicators in leadership roles and 14 percent had no Black female employees. Also, 62 percent had no Black men communicators in leadership roles and 47 percent did not employ any Black males.

Recent figures from PR Week for Blacks and other people of color show that the situation has not improved much. 2019 numbers from PR Week show that 55 percent of U.S. firms had no people of color on boards or in the C-suites, Thomas Moore reported in 2020. Also, 39 percent of the top 25 agencies in the country had no Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in those spaces.

In conclusion, some Blacks and other people of color do not want to continue to work in places where their work is limited, they are hired to meet a quota, they do not fit in, and they do not see reflections of themselves.


Discussion questions

  1. Regarding pigeon-holing, would you prefer to work on a general project or brand, or one specifically related to one of your specific avowed identities? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think quotas are necessary in the public relations profession? Why or why not? How do you think implementing quotas relates to the definition of inclusion?
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