It is very difficult to aspire to something you can’t see.
I wasn’t even aware PR was a possible career choice, until recently, because awareness of the profession among ethnic minorities is incredibly low. It is very difficult to aspire to something you can’t see. It is even more difficult to aspire to a profession that flies under the radar, where you don’t have anyone to look up to, because you can’t see anyone who looks like you in these PR firms. It is important to address the lack of diversity in PR, because this lack within the industry could push people away from wanting to enter the profession. The UK is a fascinating melting pot of backgrounds and PR should represent this makeup.
Entry-level diversity in the profession is making very steady progress, thanks to programmes like the Taylor Bennett Foundation. I am currently on the Spring 2016 TBF programme, a ten-week course designed to equip PR trainees with practical PR skills and I am receiving professional training in communications, the media and business. Without this programme I can guarantee that getting into PR would have been much more difficult for me, and I am beyond grateful for this opportunity. MHP, Brunswick, Finsbury, Edelman, Talk PR and Red Consultancy have all taken it in turns to sponsor the programme, and their public support is very significant for the evolution of diversity in PR. By these firms making an effort to help a variety of people get into the profession at an early stage, it will eventually increase the number of people from ethnic minorities in the more senior roles, in the future.
I do not wish to stick out in the workplace.
During my traineeship I have visited various PR agencies and in house firms around London, and unfortunately I have failed to see many “colourful” companies. As someone who is aspiring to get into the PR profession in the near future, it is disheartening to see that I can’t see anyone like myself in these firms. Having to play “Where’s Wally” when walking around these offices and looking at various firms’ “About Us” website pages is becoming increasingly stressful. I don’t want to be placed in the middle of the company photo. I do not wish to stick out in the workplace. I just want to have the opportunity to work with a variety of people of all ages and backgrounds, but the lack of diversity in the PR industry is making this almost impossible.
The first time I really felt like I could reach the extraordinary heights I have imagined for my career was when I met Rose Bambi, former head of PR at Cisco. Rose kindly came in to talk to the TBF team, and I finally got the chance to see that it is very possible to go far in this industry as a black woman. Although PR is a female-dominated profession, the notable lack of black females in the profession is something I observed immediately, and this inevitably caused me to worry. Rose was a breath of fresh air, because she was very positive and didn’t focus on the downsides of being a black woman in a very white industry. Instead she gave us hope. It speaks volumes that Rose’s PR inspiration is Oprah Winfrey, who isn’t actually in the profession, saying “it was Oprah who has inspired me to believe that as a black woman I could succeed in a vocation that is still not well represented by people of black origin in the UK.” The fact that she couldn’t point to someone of colour as someone she aspires to just shows the lack of diversity in the senior roles in PR. Rose truly inspired me and reaffirmed my faith in being able to do big things as a PR, and further instilled my rejection of needing to conform to society’s image of how a professional should look. She reminded me to be comfortable in knowing that my skill set is what should get me far in the profession and that where I am from and what I look like shouldn’t matter. I am just as good as anyone else. Her advice caters to anyone from an ethnic background, anything is possible through hard work and your race should never be the thing to hold you back.
increase visibility and make PR a target sector
I think the main step the industry should take to fix this problem is to increase visibility and make PR a target sector. Once the PR profession becomes more exposed, it will encourage a greater variety of people aspire to enter the sector. Young people from ethnic backgrounds are usually steered towards the more “respected” professions such as law, medicine or accounting. As the PR industry is mostly white and middle class there is a lack of role models for young people of ethnic minority backgrounds. As well as educating ethnic communities, offering paid internships will ensure people from all backgrounds can gain necessary experience. This will make sure certain demographics aren’t immediately cut out of getting a foot in the door.
Ethnic diversity in PR is a very important issue that needs to be addressed and tackled. Change is happening, but more needs to be done.