Terry Preston
Terry Preston

An analysis of labor statistics conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that the public relations industry is 87.9 percent white—and that not enough has been done to improve this percentage. Improving diversity initiatives was the focus of PRSA-NY’s inaugural DE&I summit, which was held on June 16 and 17.

As part of the event, there was a Diversity Town Hall session, in which a variety of mid-level PR practitioners from various industries shared their personal experiences with—and the challenges of— being a person of color and/or an LGBTQ individual in the communications industry. The participants also shared advice on how to promote diversity and inclusion efforts as a whole.

The session kicked off with panelists sharing personal experiences from their own careers. “When I started out in public relations, I was always the only person of color,” said Miriam Brito, a healthcare communications executive. “As I slowly started to move up in my career and specialize in the healthcare space, it remained the same. It felt isolating.”

Mentorship Matters

When asked about what kept them in the industry despite the challenges, the panelists unanimously agreed: Having mentors and support systems among their coworkers.

However, the discussion unveiled that many organizations lack any type of formalized mentorship or leadership training—and many feel that it’s difficult to form these relationships on their own.

“For me, building a personal network was crucial,” said PAN Communications account supervisor Rima Masubuchi. “When you’re not sure that you see a path forward in the long-term, you seek out mentors,” she noted, “but it’s not always easy when you don’t see managers or executive level people who share similar backgrounds or characteristics to you.”

This presents a key opportunity for organizations to instill formalized mentorship programs with an emphasis on demonstrating diverse leadership. Programs designed to inspire young professionals, especially those from historically marginalized groups, can help guarantee individuals of all backgrounds and levels have a dedicated resource to ensure their voices are heard at work.

In turn, organizations will benefit from creating more welcoming environments and encouraging greater diversity of thought. By pairing employees from various levels or departments with one another, organizations are better positioned to bridge gaps in corporate silos and even build a stronger sense of camaraderie and acceptance. Also, by putting dedicated effort behind these initiatives, companies can attract a broader pool of talent.

Planting the Seed

The discussion also revealed another key motivating factor for staying in the industry: Wanting to be an inspiration to other diverse individuals entering the workforce. “I’m lucky to have found colleagues along the way who validated me and convinced me to stay,” said Brito. “There’s a hunger in me now that wants to see my face on an agency’s leadership page because I want people who look like me to know there’s a place for them in this industry.”

How do organizations create these opportunities? They take action. Luckily, in the era of remote work and learning, it is easier than ever before for organizations to directly connect with and recruit talent of all levels from a variety of backgrounds and locations, from interns to executives. This approach can fuel an agency’s ability to create dedicated opportunities for internships, employment and networking, as executives have the ability to drop into college classrooms, employment interviews and other industry events from the comfort of their own homes. Without the challenges and added logistics of flights, hotels and transportation, companies can create these opportunities faster than ever before.

That said, many organizations are not yet as diverse as they hope to be, and see this as a significant challenge for recruitment. To get ahead of this issue, the panelists agreed that honesty is the best policy.

“The top advice I’d give is to be authentic to your organization and honest about where you are in your journey,” said Prosek Partners associate vice president Denvol Haye Jr. “When you’re implementing DE&I initiatives, it’s important to know where you stand. That can include surveys to understand what your diversity metrics are, understanding how people feel about bias and belonging, and more so you can structure your organization in a way that actively addresses those things.”

Diversity Initiatives Require Your Whole Team

Attracting and retaining diverse candidates takes more than one dedicated staff member. The panelists said a major reason this responsibility shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of just one person is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to a diversity initiative. Instead, organizations need to go beyond filling this role and ensure they are recruiting individuals at all levels who value a culture of acceptance. This requires people who are willing to speak up on behalf of others, serve as allies and educate their own organizations. These ideals should be instilled and upheld at all levels and departments.

Creating Change

Radical change requires radical action—and it’s vital that organizations continue to build off of the recent momentum around DE&I initiatives in the communications industry to help establish a more welcoming and diverse industry with equal opportunities for all.

That said, by actively pursuing various DE&I initiatives, organizations will not only be better positioned to offer a welcoming and safe workplace. Rather, organizations that recruit from various backgrounds and walks of life will benefit from significantly greater diversity of thought—and when we open ourselves up to new ideas and ways of seeing the world, our work will become more impactful than ever before.


Terry Preston is an account supervisor at ICR.