Mike Fernandez was honored with the 2016 Paladin Award and shared incredible insights on what steps the public relations industry can take to help improve diversity:

“One, we need to reduce the cost of candor on the issue of diversity and others, and create a more welcoming environment.

Google in recent years has used some of its analytical prowess in an effort called Project Aristotle to tease out what makes for the most successful teams within Google. What they have learned is that the biggest differentiator was not having the smartest people in the room. It was having teams where there was psychological safety. Where people demonstrated good listening behaviors and attempted to draw others into the conversation – regardless of age, rank, experience or whether they attended Cal Tech or MIT. Teammates treated each other with respect. People were granted close to equality in actual speaking time, and their social sensitivity, what some of us refer to as emotional intelligence, was very high.

Two, we need to continue the research, those scholarships, internships and mentorships, and continue to hire more diverse candidates.

But as an industry – and as someone who has helped to fund some of that activity – we need to better coordinate our activities. The PR Council has its efforts, as does the Arthur W. Page Society, the Institute for Public Relations, the Plank Center, the Lagrant Foundation, the PRSA Foundation and a host of others. Rather than doing the same work, rather than stumbling over each other, I’d rather us continue the dialog that was begun in recent months among many of these organizations to optimize our collective efforts in ways that will advance the cause and allow us to achieve our aim more quickly.

Three, inside our firms, we need to more seriously address the retention and development of our diverse employees. That means including diverse talent in the discussions of the firm’s most precious work. It means challenging them to bring their experiences to the table. Don’t make them feel as though they need to “cover,” encourage them to come to work with their whole self. We talk about being inclusive, but what we need is to help our employees feel included.

It also means that we need to give special attention to development of our diverse talent, so their skills and capabilities are honed, and they remain competitive and able to deliver value. We also have to help provide them with the skills and sensibilities to better navigate their own careers (I know this next month Page Society is experimenting with just such a program). This can also be embellished by offering up mentors who are solely focused on this topic with their mentees.

Four, we need to set real goals and hold ourselves and our managers accountable. Borrowing a page from the Rooney Rule in the NFL, I require my team to surface at least two diverse candidates for every opening. This improves the manager’s line of site to diverse talent, and ultimately improves our numbers.

Five, as I suggested earlier, we need to readjust our job descriptions to broaden our normal candidate pools so that our opportunity to hire diverse candidates improves at every level.

And six, like the Nike slogan: Just Do It. We don’t need many new studies. We just need to hire more, develop more and that includes at the very tops of our organizations. Torod Neptune said it best in his interview for IPR with Tina McCorkindale “it boils down to leadership and courage.”

View Mike Fernandez’s full remarks here.


Mike Fernandez accepting the 2016 Paladin Award.


Guests enjoying the reception.


2015 Paladin Honoree Charlotte Otto and her proud P&G colleagues.


2012 Paladin Winner Harold Burson

Praise for the Paladin Dinner:

“I enjoyed the evening, especially seeing long time friends and colleagues. The food was good and the program was mercifully brief, albeit substantive.” – Harold Burson, Burson-Marsteller

“It was great to see many old friends .. Great event.” – John Graham, FleishmanHillard

“The experience was enlightening. Not only did I gain helpful knowledge about public relations from top industry professionals (Johnson & Johnson, Heyman Associates & MSL Group), I also received reassured career direction from Mr. Harris Diamond’s speech. The speech was the greatest take away. The Paladin dinner is an opportunity any young professional can appreciate. Most of all, to top the night I met the Director of Media Relations at GolinHarris who handed me her card and told me and other PRSSA members, “we are in the middle of intern selection shoot me an email to get in the mix.” Overall, I left thinking wow, what a great night the PRSA foundation established from food to camaraderie.” – David Mathews, president, PRSSA chapter Baruch College

Previous Paladin Winners: 2009 – John Graham FleishmanHillard; 2010 – Marcia Silverman Ogilvy Public Relations; 2011 – Jon Iwata IBM; 2012 – Harold Burson Burson Marsteller; 2013 – Dan Edelman Edelman Public Relations; 2014 – Harris Diamond McCann Worldgroup; 2015 Charlotte Otto Procter & Gamble