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Are some more equal than others in PR?

When it comes to diversity and equality, the PR industry is making progress, but still has a way to go. We asked a recent entrant, Kalim Hawkins, PR intern at agency Finn PR, how diverse he is finding the industry and his answer is unsurprising. Hawkins says: “Prior to joining my first agency, I was aware that statistics showed PR is renowned for its lack of diversity. When looking at my network of contacts and colleagues built to date, such statistics are a reality.”

Hawkins is obviously not in a position to pinpoint exactly where the problem lies, but he does have suggestions for tackling the issue, including ensuring there is more diversity amongst role models and investing in youth. He adds: “Taking my career into consideration, my first role came via an internship scheme with great mentors that provided heaps of training, responsibility and creative freedom.“

Number crunching

Francis Ingham, director general of PRCA, expands on the statistics that Hawkins alludes to: “Our PR Census 2016 report revealed that 91% of the industry is white and 89% of the industry is British. Similarly, we know that there is a prevalent gender pay gap in the industry.”

Yes, not only is the industry mainly white, it is failing to give women equal status when it comes to pay. Ingham says that although this does not reflect well on PR, things are improving: “We have seen that the industry is determined to address this issue and has made some important strides. The industry overwhelmingly supported voluntary gender pay-gap reporting. This led us to publish our own gender pay gap and include gender pay-gap reporting in our Communications Management Standard (CMS) audit.

“We have also seen more agencies and in-house organisations pay their interns and more are hiring apprentices and graduates from universities outside the Russell Group.”

Positive action

These are important first steps, but more needs to be done. Ingham has a few ideas: “We would like to see the industry carry out regular gender-pay-gap reporting and use this information to close the gender pay gap. Furthermore, improving diversity requires senior leadership teams to seriously challenge biases in recruitment practices. These changes can begin with entry-level hires and apprenticeships are a great solution to the problem.”

Alison Clarke, founder of Alison Clarke Communications and former PRCA chairman, agrees with Ingham about the importance of driving diversity and equality, and says this needs to start with education: "We need to do far more interaction at grass-roots level within the education sector to broaden the awareness and appeal of our profession amongst young people from diverse backgrounds.”

Does it matter?

Someone who works in education, Trevor Morris, professor of public relations at Richmond University, points out how difficult it is to create an industry that reflects the society it is part of: “PR is more female, better educated and younger than society as a whole. Will PR ever be truly diverse? No. Not at least in the sense that it can ever accurately mirror the whole of society.”

Some claim that if people in PR do not reflect society as a whole, they cannot do their jobs well. Morris explains it is not quite as simple as this: “Empathy is probably the most important quality in PR. Without empathy you can’t understand how the people you are trying to persuade think or feel.

“Diversity is likely to enhance empathy within the industry, so in that sense alone diversity is a good thing. But we must be careful not to say only people from a particular group can understand or talk to people in that group. If that were true there should be fewer women and well educated people in PR. Not something anyone seems to be proposing.”

The future

You might be in a position, as a PR employer, to help increase diversity and equality in your own organisation. If so, please do! Turning to the industry bodies is useful for guidance, and Sarah Hall, PR consultant is one CIPR president-elect candidate who hopes to improve the support employers receive: “As part of my campaign to become CIPR president-elect, I’ve pledged to introduce a staff salary scale and diversity register at the Institute, as well as produce guidance so members can do the same."

Hall also says that that the PRCA now including gender pay-gap reporting as part of its CMS, and the CIPR sharing data to help end pay discrimination, are significant steps forward.

Despite all the bluster about what everyone is doing in PR to make it more diverse and equal, the current picture is not good. As Alison Clarke concludes: “If it were a school report frankly I’d say ‘Some modest progress, but could try harder!’"

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