Remarks Delivered by Foundation President Judith A. Harrison

Monday, October 9, 2017
2017 PRSA International Conference: Diversity & Inclusion Call to Action

Today’s political and cultural state of play, amplified by social media, has reignited new dialogue and urgency surrounding one of the most important issues facing our country: diversity, equity and inclusion. As communicators, we are called to action as never before to have courageous conversations, reach across cultural divides and make our industry better able to engage with the stakeholders we serve, both within and outside of our organizations. Now more than ever, we must come together to recruit and retain people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and experiences to foster understanding and drive creativity and innovation.

We have the obligation and opportunity to tap into the widest range of talent available, leverage their differences to create powerful new solutions to communications challenges, and create workplaces where everyone feels welcome, every voice is heard and everyone has equal opportunity to contribute, advance and grow.

The PRSA Foundation stands at the center of an industry poised for change. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit with the singular mission of increasing diversity and inclusion in the communications industry. We help educate and empower rising diverse talent with the potential to become the next generation of leaders in a rapidly changing business. We fund scholarships for promising students and provide internships that put talented young people on the road to success. We sponsor important, award-winning research that sheds light on the experiences and perspectives of people of color in PR and the barriers that prevent them from rising as far and as fast as they otherwise could, sometimes leading to their leaving the business. Our research and studies from a wide range of sources confirms and illustrates the importance of mentoring in advancing the careers of minorities. It is fundamental to the retention and development of the diverse workforce critical to the future of our industry. The PRSA Foundation is committed to turning critical research findings into actionable steps companies and agencies can take by sharing best practices in diversity and inclusion. Our innovative programs are designed to help the Foundation’s sponsors create connected, collaborative work environments in which diverse talent can thrive and communications output is stronger and more reflective of the communities we serve.

Research also shows how fostering a feeling of belonging can boost motivation, enhance productivity and foster success. The PRSA Foundation is proud to provide travel grants for outstanding multicultural students to go to the PRSSA conference, be welcomed into our industry by some of our leading practitioners, and start making the connections that are crucial to lifelong success.

Everyone in this room knows why making the public relations industry more diverse and inclusive is so important, but it bears repeating. As communications professionals, we are charged with engaging with a world of stakeholders whose demographics are changing at blinding speed. 43% of millennials are people of color, the highest percentage of any generation. More than 50% of Americans under age five are diverse. By 2020, just three years from now, 50% of U.S. children under 18 are expected to be people of color. Non-Hispanic whites will make up less than half of the U.S. population by 2044. Today, 47% of millennials consider diversity and inclusion to be determining factors in where they work.

We know that a diverse workforce operating in an inclusive environment is a key driver of innovation, a critical component of being successful on a global scale, and a necessity for companies that want to attract and retain top talent.

And yet… With roughly $3.5 trillion of minority buying power at stake, in 2014, just 8.7% of people in public relations were black and only 10.7% were Hispanic. From a purely logical perspective, this is unfathomable. If we are going to communicate with diverse stakeholders in ways that are authentic, resonant and relevant, it
is imperative that we treat ramping up diversity in our industry as an urgent, hair-on-fire emergency.

The PRSA Foundation recognizes this and wants to partner with sponsors to speed up the achingly slow rate of change. Our work has ongoing, critical impact on individuals in our business and the organizations they serve.

The scholarship winners in our video are wonderful examples of the profound effect the Foundation has had on the lives of diverse rising stars in our exciting, ever-changing industry.

But there is much more work to be done. There is no excuse for the paucity of minorities in public relations. We cannot wait for the situation to right itself someday. We may have created this situation unconsciously, but we will have to be fiercely intentional to change it.

We, every single one of us, have an obligation to make it possible for multicultural practitioners to thrive in our business. This is the
Foundation’s goal. We are deeply appreciative of PRSA’s efforts to help us get there.

Thank you.