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How to build a diverse PR workforce at every level

A recent Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) report found that 87% of PR practitioners in England and Wales are white, with 5% from Asian backgrounds, 4% of mixed ethnicity and 3% black. In this article, Patrick Ball MCIPR, account director at Stone Junction, discusses what universities and the industry can do to attract and retain diverse talent into PR and marketing jobs.

“Since I entered the world of PR in 2019… I have been shocked at how underrepresented I am as an ethnic minority.” Patrick Ball, account director at Stone Junction.

The PR Population report, published in partnership with Chalkstream, is the first report by the CIPR that uses data from the 2021 Census, surveying 63,563 PR practitioners across England and Wales.

It also showed that while PR remains female dominated, with a 60/40 female to male split, women only account for 46% of director level practitioners. Similarly, there is greater ethnic diversity among those in the professional group than those in the director group, and those in the professional group are more likely to be disabled than the director group. It’s clear that we need to recruit a more diverse workforce into PR graduate jobs and — vitally — ensure the pipeline of talent reaches director and board-level roles.

“To a certain extent, PR has a PR problem when it comes to young people being aware of it as a valid and fruitful career path.” Kelly O’Hanlon, course director for PR and media at Birmingham City University

Commenting on the findings, Rachael Clamp, CIPR president, said: “While the industry’s strides, since the Census data was collected in 2021, must be celebrated, the report’s statistics confirm that the sector must continue to provide equal opportunities for all. It is only then that true inclusion and diversity within the PR industry and beyond can be achieved.”

The academic perspective

Kelly O’Hanlon, course director for PR and media at Birmingham City University said: “To a certain extent, PR has a PR problem when it comes to young people being aware of it as a valid and fruitful career path. It isn’t taught in schools and, even at college, students may have limited exposure to or understanding of PR and its related fields. This means that there is not as much awareness as there could be when students are considering higher education study.

“Our student community is exceptionally diverse and across our BA and MA public relations programmes, we see strong representation of students from different ethnic and demographic backgrounds. It is therefore discouraging to hear that this diversity is still not represented within the industry itself. Whilst change can take time, the issue of diversity is not a new one.”

“It's crucial that we fix the issue of diversity at director level.” Patrick Ball, account director at Stone Junction.


Developing policies that encourage diversity

Since I entered the world of PR in 2019, whether attending industry events held by the CIPR and PRCA or visiting clients from across the STEM sector, I have been shocked at how underrepresented I am as an ethnic minority. However, things are improving as businesses make conscious efforts to improve representation from across different backgrounds.

Likewise, PR agencies should strive to implement policies that tackle the industry’s diversity problem head on. This requires listening to the needs of diverse members of the team and creating an environment where those needs are met. It may be that the company can accommodate religious practices with a dedicated prayer space, or allow colleagues to swap bank holidays for cultural or religious day, for example — small changes that may make employees feel more supported and welcome.

“Agencies should build a culture with no pay gaps, a zero tolerance of racism and the flexibility needed to accommodate those with different needs.” Patrick Ball, account director at Stone Junction.


As a very basic starting point, agencies can make use of the CIPR’s resources on EDI basics, inclusive comms, inclusive language and inclusive events. Working with the Taylor Bennett Foundation, offering internships or mentoring, and working towards Blueprint accreditation are also valuable steps to take.

Something I’ve seen work well in practice is applying the Rooney Rule as recommended in Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m Not Talking to White People About Race, during recruitment to ensure that BAME candidates are interviewed.

It's crucial that we fix the issue of diversity at director level. Diverse leadership teams provide representation for BAME employees whose lived experience and perspectives will vary to that of their colleagues, and can drive a more open and inclusive culture. This means not just recruiting a diverse workforce, but enabling and facilitating progression into senior roles.

Most importantly, agencies should build a culture with no pay gaps, a zero tolerance of racism and the flexibility needed to accommodate those with different needs. Only with concerted effort will the numbers on the reports start to move the right direction.

Written by

Patrick Ball, account director at Stone Junction


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