Why PR must focus on diversity

Key findings

  • “Disability in PR is a dirty secret” often overlooked by PR businesses and the industry’s representative bodies
  • Evidence of active discrimination of ethnic minorities in recruitment – and general slow progress on the issue down to a lack of impetus for change
  • “PR’s obsession with youth” and pursuit of digital natives has resulted in older professionals being made to feel “out of touch”
  • A complacent approach to sexuality has led to non-heterosexual professionals feeling uncomfortable about being themselves in certain sectors
  • On gender equality –  a feeling of injustice amongst women starting families that has been amplified by inflexible working cultures, created by an imbalance of men in leadership positions, resulting in a gender pay gap of £12,591 (Note: as recorded in CIPR State of the Profession 2015).

British PR businesses still have work to do in order to make the profession more diverse and better represent the rest of the UK’s population. According to a new research report, by the CIPR’s Diversity Working Group, they must: take greater ownership of the diversity agenda; deliver genuine inclusive leadership; and ensure inclusive communications is part of all PR campaigns.

The report highlights shocking bad practice in PR, including active discrimination, an obsession with youth, and a gender pay gap.

Discussing why it is important for PR to clean up its act when it comes to diversity, Catherine Grinyer MCIPR, chair of the CIPR Diversity Working Group and founder of Big Voice Communications, says: "PR is a vital business function. If we get diversity and inclusion right within our industry it will put us ahead of our client but, at the moment, we are lagging behind.

“We should be drawing on a range of diverse talent and communicating with diverse audiences, but we are not. If we don’t understand how to embed inclusion and become skilled at delivering more inclusive campaigns, then we are failing at our job.”

PR diversity the stats

According the last CIPR State of the Profession report, conducted with over 2,000 PR professionals:

  • 9% of PR professionals were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds
  • 2% identified as being Asian or Asian British
  • 4% identified as being Black/African/Caribbean/Black British
  • 6% of respondents identified as having a disability (Government stats indicate 20% of the UK population have a disability)
  • 7% of participants identified as being non-heterosexual
  • 10% of male respondents identified as being gay
  • 1% of female respondents identified as being lesbian
  • 65% agreed that PR campaigns are more effective when they are created and delivered by teams that are representative of the audiences they seek to engage.

Grinyer says that the case for change is compelling and encourages PR leaders to make diversity and inclusion a priority for 2016.

The report also includes contributions from business leaders who are keen to do their bit to improve the industry. Stuart Smith, global CEO of Ogilvy PR explains: “Diversity and Inclusion is important to Ogilvy PR because it is the right thing to do. Period. It’s right for our people, it’s right for our clients and it’s right for our business.”


This feature is based on the CIPR qualitative research study of more than 30 PR professionals, from a range of disciplines and backgrounds, which recorded personal experiences and perceptions across a range of “diversity issues” including ethnicity, sexuality, disability, gender equality and age equality. The research was conducted both through face-to-face roundtables hosted in London and Leeds, and through the use of mobile research platform Kiosk, which prompted participants to record and share video feedback on a range of issues via their smartphones.

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