By Ellen McGirt
Updated: February 8, 2018 1:21 PM ET


I linked to a powerful PR Week video about the lack of racial diversity in public relations yesterday, and it evidently hit a nerve.

The eight-minute film hands the microphone to current PR people of color who candidly describe how difficult their experiences have been while offering some prescriptions for change. “The only people who…really understand how big the diversity problem is in P.R. are the people of color,” said Andrew McCaskill, the senior vice president, global communications at Nielsen, who is featured in the video and makes some of the more direct observations.

Since we published yesterday, I’ve been inundated with mail and social media pings, consisting almost entirely of head-nodding, much of which was from white raceAhead’s readers. (We have a very diverse audience, for which we’re extremely grateful.)

“I’ve been at this twenty-plus years and only once was I at a shop that wasn’t completely white,” wrote media strategist Mike Spinney. “One of the frustrating things I’ve experienced as a practitioner is the collective struggle to come up with truly new ideas and approaches. That takes people with new perspective and new experiences. Why are we so afraid of bringing in people who can add new and exciting ways to tell stories?”

I asked McCaskill to respond. He says the issue has become a business imperative. “The US consumer market is changing. Multicultural Americans are not only driving culture, but we’re driving markets. If your teams don’t reflect or understand your customer base, it’s not just bad optics; it’s strategy malpractice.” And don’t come to him with your pipeline woes, there is not a lack. “There are too many senior level black folks on the corporate side of the business for that to be true,” he says.

One white woman, a junior PR practitioner for a tech company (and who preferred not to share her name or title) said the situation seems intractable. “We gravitate to people who (senior) leaders are comfortable with,” she said. The result is an echo chamber rather than a creativity or an accountability engine. “And so much of what we do happens internally – we’re not just pitching stories – we’re identifying potential problems in products, we’re making sure our messaging really reflects who we are, we’re internal storytellers who help drive culture change. You don’t think diversity would help that?”

Everyone said we all needed to keep talking, not only about diversity but about the broader relationship between communications and the media.

And most said it’s time to get the gatekeepers of homogeneity on the record. “I was actually thinking that this could be a compelling topic for a live roundtable,” said Spinney. “What was shared on that video must have only scratched the surface. Having some of those people talking with folks who lead un-diverse teams would be fun,” he said.

Fun, indeed. I’ll volunteer to moderate. Now, which leaders of all-white enterprises would like to join the conversation?


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