While speaking with a friend who is in the process of applying to law school, the topic of the lack of minorities in this particular school came up during a conversation with an admissions officer. When prompting the admissions officer to delve into some of the ways they’re increasing their diversity and reasons why their program has traditionally lacked diversity in the past, the response was, “if I’m being honest, we just don’t get the applicants.”
People have long blamed a shortage of minority applicants for the lack of diversity among their employees and schools, but in reality, this response shows a lack of awareness and consideration to particular barriers to entry that are present specifically for communities of color. As an Afro-Latina woman who has worked incredibly hard to not only graduate college with honors, but to be in a position where I could have a post college internship in public relations and work towards becoming an Account Executive at Prosek Partners, it is discouraging to consistently hear from executives in positions that I one day would like to be in, that diverse talent is scarce. It’s as if they’re telling me, and others like me, that we don’t exist. How can we begin to prove ourselves to people who aren’t necessarily looking for us?
When considering the PR industry and its lack of diversity, it’s certainly not true that there is not enough quality minority talent who desire to work in public relations. While I’m proud to work at a firm where diversity is encouraged, sadly, the industry at large still has a lot of work to do. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ethnic makeup of the PR industry in the U.S. is 87.9% white, 8.3% African American, 2.6% Asian American, and 5.7% Hispanic American. However, what is important to think about is the idea of access. The talent is out there, and I would push the PR community to find a way to access it and make those in diverse communities feel seen.
The PR community should consider implementing the following changes to their recruiting process to attract and retain diverse talent:
- Look Outside the Box: Some of the most talented people I’ve worked with in my career didn’t have a communications or PR degree at all. Instead, in a past life, they were maybe lawyers who brought their skills learned to the PR industry. We shouldn’t be limiting ourselves to looking for talent in the places they should be, but instead, looking for where they could be.
- Go Straight to The Source: Given that more people are meeting virtually in place of in-person meetings, use this as an opportunity to connect directly with minority communities. This month, Prosek is hosting a recruiting session with both Spelman and Morehouse to discuss opportunities within the firm and taking a step back, what a career in PR could look like. To effectively find diverse talent for your recruitment pipeline, you need to recruit where diversity thrives.
- End the Unpaid Internship: Internships play an integral part in kickstarting an individual’s career path, especially in PR when so much of what we do on a daily basis is learned on the job and outside of the classroom. However, even so, a significant number of firms are still not paying their interns which puts communities of color at a disadvantage. According to USA Today, unpaid internships create extreme financial barriers for young workers who can’t afford to offer free labor in exchange for training and professional connections. Offering compensation for the work that is done at the intern level could have an immense impact on creating opportunities for a subset of people and talent that in the past, have been left out.
- Partner with Student Organizations: There are many student organizations whose focus is serving underrepresented groups. During my undergrad at Baruch College, I was a part of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) where I was surrounded by intelligent, diverse individuals, who would have cherished the opportunity to connect with recruiters in the PR industry. Building connections with these student run organizations creates familiarity and ensures a steady pipeline of diverse talent for your organization.
- Tap Senior Leadership: Word of mouth can be a powerful tool in the recruiting process. Organize a referral system where senior leadership can provide recommendations on diverse candidates they’ve worked with and tap them to work on your team.
Recent events with race at their core have cast a harsh light on the lack of diversity within different industries, and the PR community is not immune. There is a misconception that those who call for greater diversity expect the problem to be solved immediately, which isn’t true. However, what is true is that we expect corporations to look inwards and do the work to recognize and eliminate the barriers to entry that prevent diverse talent from being easily accessible. The right talent is out there, but only if you’re willing to look for it.
Jalana Torres is a media relations professional with experience in a variety of industries such as banking, asset management, fintech and consumer finance.
Prior to joining Prosek, Jalana was an Associate at Weber Shandwick as part its Corporate Reputation & Brand practice, where she worked on a number of B2B clients across several different industries. Within this role, she was responsible for producing client deliverables such as messaging, media briefing documents and media pitches to position prominent executives as thought leaders and support their business goals and objectives. She has also supported several crisis situations for clients including real-time monitoring, scenario planning and drafting reactive internal and external media statements.
Jalana received her Bachelor of Arts degree in corporate communication with a minor in sociology from Bernard M. Baruch College in New York City.
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