Minority Practitioners Experience Racism
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Minority Practitioners Experience Racism

More than half of the black and Hispanic public relations practitioners responding to a new national survey say they have experienced discrimination at the hands of employers or co-workers.

Paul Holmes

More than half of the black and Hispanic public relations practitioners responding to a new national survey say they have experienced discrimination at the hands of employers or co-workers, and almost two-thirds (63 percent) believe they have to be better qualified than their white colleagues in order to do the same job.

The survey reveals widespread dissatisfaction with the industry’s commitment to diversity and concerns that both agencies and clients are still uncomfortable with black and Hispanic PR professionals.

The online survey was conducted in October 2004 and January 2005 by Lynn Appelbaum, chair of the department of media and communication Arts at The City College of New York, and Rochelle Ford, advertising and PR sequence coordinator at Howard University. It was underwritten by New York public relations firm RF Binder Partners.

“This is a wake-up call for the PR industry to take significant steps to address diversity,” says Appelbaum. “While we have begun to talk about how to diversify our workforce, industry professionals and HR staffs must take action if we are going to effect meaningful change. The industry may want to look to women-owned firms for leadership in this important area.”

Women-owned and managed organizations accounted for 40.7 percent of those surveyed, but have a significantly larger percent of multicultural employees. And practitioners at female-owned or managed organizations felt management was more committed to helping them succeed.

Job satisfaction among Black and Latino professionals is lower than job satisfaction among the general PR practitioner population, with only 45.8 percent of the respondents feeling satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs. Hispanic practitioners reported significantly lower levels of job satisfaction than their African-American colleagues.

More than half the respondents (54 percent) said they had experienced subtle discrimination on the part of current or past employers, and 40 percent said they had experienced overt discrimination. Sixty percent of respondents feel multicultural practitioners are put on slow moving career tracks, and 56 percent feel that multicultural practitioners are frequently relegated to menial tasks.

One glimmer of good news is that multicultural practitioners feel that they are integrated in the workplace and do not see themselves as being relegated to only multicultural clients. And nearly two thirds agree or strongly agree that they have been mentored by one or more PR practitioners who made a difference in their success. Nearly 84 percent had at least one white male mentor and 87 percent had at least one white female mentor. 

Multicultural practitioners identified several strategies for professional organizations and employers to take to improve the industry’s diversity initiatives: provide diversity and management training for staff and managers, actively recruit at universities with high minority enrollment and at conferences and job fairs that target minorities.

The biggest barrier to attracting more diverse practitioners to the industry is the lack of a pervasive and persuasive recruitment campaign to attract multicultural employees, respondents said. They also complained that too many PR recruiters don’t know how to find multicultural candidates when jobs become available, and that qualified candidates don’t know about opportunities in the PR profession.

As a result, just 1.2 percent of respondents felt PR had been successful in recruiting a more diverse workforce, while 24.2 percent felt the industry had not been successful. The remainder rated the industry as somewhat successful.

Among the recommendations offered by Appelbaum and Ford:

• Recruit at colleges with large multicultural populations and at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Create partnerships with career counseling offices at these institutions. Conduct outreach to PRSSA multicultural student members. Recruit multicultural students majoring in English, history, social science and communications.
• Do not create a policy of quota hiring for its own sake. Instead, foster a corporate culture that values and supports diversity.  Forget about hiring “token” minorities.  Hire the best qualified candidates, but seek out and be genuinely open to recruiting multicultural practitioners. 
• Hire more people of color to do outreach.  Focus on building multicultural middle and upper management ranks with key positions, not just entry level trainee jobs with no support.
• Partner with multicultural professional organizations, such as Black Public Relations Society and Hispanic Public Relations Society on recruitment efforts.
• Advertise in multicultural magazines/media.
• Consistently offer internships and mentoring programs for multicultural students/practitioners.

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