Diversity and Public Relations Practice

Introduction

This essay discusses the accelerating influence of diverse groups on the domestic and international practice of public relations. The essay provides definitions of diversity; the knowledge and skills that practitioners need to relate to diverse publics; diversity models for public relations executives; and the need for requisite variety in the public relations industry. It ends by listing practical guides and additional sources. The essay includes both academic and trade publications about diversity and public relations practice.

Definitions of Diversity

Diversity definitions focus on differences based on primary and secondary demographic categories; how these differences result from individual and group identities; cultural distinctions and how these distinctions have led to differences in power; commitment to ethical norms; how diversity should be respected and included in societal actions; and an evolving term beginning to include differences based on workplace roles and expectations, personal styles, and thought (Hain, 2008). A sampling of definitions includes:

  • Diversity represents categories of people based on differences that cannot be altered, such as age, race, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, and physical abilities/qualities; and differences that can be altered, such as class, language, income, marital status, religion, geography, and military experience (Sha and Ford, 2007, p. 386).
  • Diversity includes avowed identities and ascribed identities, that is, how we see ourselves and how others perceive us (Sha and Ford, 2007, p. 386). Lagace (2009) adds that these identities develop in the context of societies and have different power positions in society.
  • Diversity is a commitment to the ethical norms of “representativeness, equity and differences,” as opposed to actions that are merely a matter of legal obligations and risk management, such as equal employment or affirmative action regulations (Johnson & Rivera, 2007, p.  15-17).
  • Diversity is about how we deal with divisiveness that comes with differences (Castania, 2006).
  • Diversity ranges from personality and work style to all of the visible dimensions such as race, age, ethnicity or gender, to secondary influences such as religion, socioeconomics and education, to work diversities such as management and union, functional level, classification or proximity/distance to headquarters (SHRM Glossary).

Anderson and Collins’s definition of diversity provides a summary of the key concepts mentioned by others: “Diversity is about an awareness of and sensitivity to the intersections of race, class and gender, about seeing linkages to other categories of analysis, including sexuality, age, religion, physical disability, national identity and ethnicity, and about appreciating the disparities of power that produce social inequities (2004, p. 1).

The Business Case for Diversity: Building Relationships with Diverse Publics Locally and Globally

Mckann Thomas, Brady Quinn, McKenzie Draper and Emily Sopp, Juniors, Communications, Brigham Young University

Public relations authors have written extensively about the benefits of diversity in seeking out new markets. Ravazzani concluded:

Public relations professionals are called upon to deliver more effective messages; promote deeper understanding between an organization and its publics; increase employee attraction and retention; enrich public relations departments with diverse talents, fertile dialogue and increased innovation; improve corporate reputation and expand market shares in diversity segments of stakeholder publics (2006).

The United States by mid-21st century will be “more racially and ethnically diverse as well as much older (U. S. Census, 2008, p. 1). The United States population will be made up of about 54 percent minority groups; that is “everyone except non-Hispanic, single-race whites” (2008, p. 1).

The Hispanic population is projected to nearly triple, with one in three U.S. citizens of Hispanic background. Black citizens of the United States will become 15 percent of the population by 2050. Asian Americans will be about nine percent of all citizens. Nearly one in five citizens will be 65 years of age or older. These diverse groups have unique identities, shared experiences, distinct preferences for specialized media, and culturally developed organizations to which they belong and trust (Howland, 2007).

Internationally, public relations practitioners face even greater diversity, operating “across time zones, within different political, economic, and social systems and with varying media constraints” (Wakefield, 2008, p. 141). Practitioners seek relationships with multinational populations that differ in national income, literacy, religion, environment, poverty, technology, governance, and language. Over 60 percent of the world population is Asian. About 14 percent of the world population is African. Approximately 11 percent of the world population lives in Europe. Only about 5 percent lives in North America (Global Demographics, 2008).

Diversity Competencies for Public Relations Professionals

Public relations professionals rarely receive diversity education in preparation to enter the public relations field. Resources are available, however, including associations that publish on-line information, such as the Hispanic PR Wire News, the U.S. Asia Wire News and the Black PR Wire News.

Practitioners can develop expertise or competencies to build relationships with diverse groups (See Swanson, 2005). These competencies include knowledge of a diverse world; personal attributes to work in a diverse world; and skills to communicate and interact successfully with diverse groups (Tilford Research Group, 2004). Table 1 provides a list of specific knowledge, attributes, and skills.

Table 1: Tilford Group Diversity Competencies (2004)
I. Knowledge:

  1. Cultural self-awareness–The ability to understand one’s ethnic self-identification.
  2. Diverse ethnic groups- An understanding of different cultures and ethnic groups.
  3. Social/political/economic/historical framework- Understanding how these factorsand events affect diverse groups around the world.
  4. Changing demographics- Understanding how changing demographics affect cultures.
  5. Understanding the population dynamics of race and ethnicity.
II. Personal Attributes:

  1. Flexibility: Being able to adapt to a changing world.
  2. Respect: An appreciation for differences in others.
  3. Empathy: The ability to respect another person’s culture and perspective.
III. Skills

  1. Cross-cultural communication- Verbal/nonverbal communications withdifferent groups.
  2. Teamwork- The ability to work with diverse groups toward a common goal.
  3. Conflict resolution- The ability to resolve cultural conflicts.
  4. Critical thinking- Being able to use inductive and deductive reasoning
  5. Language development- Being able to speak and write more than one language
  6. Leadership development- The ability to provide diversity leadership

International public relations author, Enric Ordeix-Rigo provides competencies for carrying out multinational corporate social responsibility; developing multinational communication ethics; and building successful corporate communication standards (2007). His suggestions include that there be a corporate culture manager as part of the leadership of the organization; building links with social opinion leaders locally; the negotiation and mediation of local disagreements versus the global; and developing self-criticism and objectivity (pp. 20-26).

Diversity Concepts

The diversity concepts of culture, avowed and ascribed identities, power, stereotyping, and the social construction of diverse groups help explain why diversity issues develop.

Culture

Culture is considered “the sum total of ways of living, including behavioral norms, linguistic expression, styles of communication, patterns of thinking and beliefs and values of a group large enough to be self-sustaining and transmitted over the course of generations (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2006, pp. 27-8). Based on either primary or secondary differences, some diverse groups develop their own shared traditions, languages and cultures.

According to Falconi (2004), public relations itself should be considered to be “culturally-rooted” in professional, organizational and society perspectives. Public relations as a professional culture includes codes of ethics that have preferred standards for the practice as developed by the group of practitioners. Public relations as an organizational function will be shaped by organizational and national cultures– values, beliefs, and expectations. If the organization believes in a diverse workforce, then the public relations department will have greater permission to include practitioners from different backgrounds and standpoints. Similarly, each national culture will influence how organizations communicate with one another. In the culture of the United States, the practice of public relations is shaped by the First Amendment to the Constitution; however, in other nations freedom of speech and press values are not known or of little use to how communication is carried out.

Avowed and Ascribed Identities

Sha (2008), in a baseline study of multirace Americans, explains the concepts of avowed and ascribed identities. Avowed identities are those that people claim and assert for themselves, whereas ascribed identities are those that people assign to others. Diverse individuals and groups are agents in their own social constructions rather than merely passive in accepting assigned meanings and characteristics to themselves.

Sha illustrates these concepts with the example of multirace Americans who wish to report on U.S. Census surveys that they are in two or more races. The U.S. Census now permits individuals to claim that they belong to more than one race (avowed identify) or opt out by indicating an affiliation with only one race. Sha argues that scholarship is “shifting away notions of inferiority or marginality of multirace individuals (ascribed identities) to exploring the lived experiences to multiracial individuals in their own words (avowed identities)” (p. 7).

Power

“Diversity is not about exclusion, but about inclusion in all respects. It is not about taking away any one’s position of power, but to build on it for the future.” (PR Coalition, 2005, preface). This quote references the concept of power and its role in the discussion of diversity. Power is defined as “the capacity to exert influence, a transaction in which you get others to change their behavior as you intended” (Dozier, Grunig and Grunig, 1995, p.75 ). Groups based on diversity characteristics have been assigned more or less power through the force of socialization.

Stereotyping

Stereotyping is a term from psychology that addresses the shortcutting and oversimplifying of human perception so that judgments and decisions can be made quickly. Humans stereotyped others by assigning only very few characteristics to them. Stereotyping of others however results in racial profiling, sexual harassment, pigeon-holing and missed opportunities to build relationships with the consequential publics of organizations. Stereotypes, such as the “queen bee” syndrome, (the lone female manager who won’t relinquish her status by helping junior female employees) or the stereotype of Asians as brainy or highly disciplined, work to oppress individuals and groups because they are reduced by judgments that are not only oversimplified but inaccurate.

Social Construction of Diverse Groups

The social construction of diverse groups refers to how societies construct or create specific meanings around differences. “Diversity is a social construction that reflects the intersections among specific characteristics of individuals and groups and the resultant power differences (hierarchies of advantage and disadvantage)” (L. A. Grunig, 2006, p. 27 ).

Socially constructed meanings reinforce how diverse groups are perceived and their differences weighed. In the United States, the “white male construction” has been understood to have the most valued characteristics of society. “White maleness” has the socially constructed meanings of “power, independence, competitiveness, and rationality” (Rakow, 1989).

The white male construction has influenced the workplace, especially those who are innately or secondarily different, to the point of individuals suppressing their self-identities. In a study of leadership potential in the organization, for example, Hewlett, Luce and West interviewed minority professionals, who kept hidden their active community leadership for fear of being called “different.” They avoided topics they felt were taboo, such as religion and ethnicity, not wanting ammunition to be used against them or of running the risk of reinforcing negative stereotypes (p. 77). The authors make the point that the minority professionals in their survey were “unseen leaders in the midst” of their organizations who would have added significant value to organizations because of their community service connections had they felt they could reveal their culturally-specific talents.

Diversity Models for Public Relations Executives

The diversity competencies needed by public relations executives, agency heads, and managers of public relations departments concern their leadership roles in hiring, retaining, and counseling their organizations on the resources and insights needed to build relationships with diverse publics. Two PRWeek surveys in 2007 and 2008 report on the frustrations and challenges of building a diverse industry by public relations executives (Schmelzer, R., 2007 and Maul, K., 2008). Maul suggested, however, that while the lack of diversity still persists, 67.7 percent of multicultural respondents to the 2008 survey believed that their “company senior management is committed to a more diverse workforce” (p. 15).

There are several studies and articles that give solutions to public relations executives and managers about hiring and retaining top diverse talent for their organizations (See practical guides; Ford, 2004, Finding diverse job candidates; and Ford, 2004, Needs assessment).

A more macro view of organizations and diversity by experts recommends stages or models by which to do diversity audits of departments and organizations. For example, Ely and Thomas (in Lagace, 2004) have argued that organizations tend to adopt one of three positions on how they value diversity in their organizations: the discrimination and fairness perspective, with its aspiration to be “color blind;” access and legitimacy perspective, shunting people on to segregated career tracks, such as pigeon-holing; and the integration and learning perspective, with “group members encourage to bring all relevant insights and perspectives to bear on their work” (Lagace, 2004).

Mazzei and Ravazzani (2008) provided three models for diagnosing the diversity efforts of organizations: the assimilating minorities approach; the diversity management approach; and the most proactive model, that of leveraging differences (See Figure 1). Organizations reflected in the assimilating minorities model are described as reacting to laws and policies begun in the 1960s in the United States. These organizations recruited employees only to meet compulsory quotas or policies as established in the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws (1964 Civil Rights Act), the Age Discrimination Act of 1967 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. “The emphasis of assimilating minorities is primarily with internal employees and the responsibility of the policy linked to the HR Department” (Mazzei and Ravazzani, 2008, p. 5).

The diversity management model represents going beyond just following laws and political correctness, to focus on “the business case and performance improvements next to legal and social mandates” (Mazzei and Ravazzani, 2008, p. 5). Managing diversity is discussed as economically beneficial to the organization because of increased employee productivity and job satisfaction, and of encouraging innovation and creativity and improving customer satisfaction. Examples of diversity management programs are work-life balance policies, part-time work plans, tele-commuting, and flexible hours; philanthropic activities reflecting diverse employee groups; and communication across and between cultures.

Mazzei and Ravazzani’s third model suggests not only respecting difference but also leveraging differences for the organization. Rather than consider differences and identities as behaviors to be managed, the leverage differences model suggests that the differences and identities of employees are valued, “as a means of enhancing organizational effectiveness and to create a competitive advantage” (2008, p. 9).

Valuing difference would be a part of the organization’s “recruiting, training, performance appraisal, compensation and promotion” (Mazzei and Ravazzani, 2008, p. 10). The means by which the organization can achieve leveraging difference would be through training for cultural sensitiveness, recruiting for competencies, creating communities of practices based on professional and cultural interests, practices rooted in the core business, and intercultural communication, or interactions between people of different cultures in order to reach mutual understanding.

Figure 1: From Assimilating Minorities, to Managing Diversity, to Leveraging Differences*

Toth Graphic

Mazzei, A. and Ravazzani, S. (2008). Leveraging differences in a global competitive

Context: A qualitative analysis. Paper presented to the 7th International Congress on

Marketing Trends. Venice, Italy

The three stage model of Mazzei and Ravazzani shows actions and means to reaching diversity goals.

Requisite Variety in the PR Industry

Thomas and Ely, Harvard Business School experts on diversity, have long argued that a diverse workforce “increased profitability, but beyond financial measures, encompasses learning, creativity, flexibility, organizational and individual growth, and the ability ofa company to adjust rapidly and successfully to market changes” (1996, pp. 79-80).

Their conclusion reflects the theory of requisite variety, (Weick,1979). that “there must be at least as much variety – or diversity – inside the organization as outside for the organization to build effective relationships with all critical or strategic parts of the environment” (L. A. Grunig and Ehling, 1992, p. 84).

Public relations professionals, unfortunately, are themselves insufficiently diverse to provide requisite variety to organizations. Although the percentage of women in public relations varies from 60 percent to 70 percent depending on categories and samples reported, a white female majority in the field of public relations is not in dispute (Grunig & Toth, 2006, pp. 41-42).

Estimating the numbers of minority practitioners working in public relations is difficult to do accurately. Pompper reported, using Department of Labor statistics, that only 4.5 percent of management public relations jobs are held by African-American women, 39 percent by white women and 48.3 percent by white men (2004, p. 271). The National Black Public Relations Society 2004 membership directory listed 190 practitioners (Pompper, 2005, p. 298); and the over 20,000 member Public Relations Society of America’s Directory of Multicultural Public Relations Professionals and Firms listed only 227 African-Americans professionals, 48 Hispanic practitioners, and 30 Asian-American practitioners (Pompper, 2005, p. 298).

Public relations practitioners from diverse groups have voiced dissatisfactions about working in public relations. In a 2005 survey of multicultural public relations, about 57 percent of the Non-Caucasian American practitioner sample perceived that the public relations industry was only somewhat successful in retaining a diverse workforce. About 60 percent of the sample felt that multicultural practitioners were put on slow moving tracks in their jobs. Some 63 percent reported that they had to be more qualified than Caucasian Americans; About 55 percent reported not being afforded the same opportunities as Caucasian Americans; 53 percent said that some employers didn’t want diverse practitioners working for them; and, 54 percent reported experiencing subtle discrimination by their employers and co-workers (Multicultural Survey of PR Practitioners, 2009, Applebaum & Ford, 2005).

Ethnically diverse individuals polled in a 2008 PRWeek survey reported such barriers to joining and remaining in the public relations industry as not enough role models (57 percent); not actively recruiting ethnically diverse students (54 percent); and cultural barriers of organizations (46.5 percent) (Maul, 2008).

Pompper (2004) reported that focus groups of African-American women who considered themselves valuable employees said that “their organizations consistently discriminated against them, rendered them voiceless, excluded them, and poorly compensated them” (p. 285).

Toth, Aldoory and Sha (2006) have documented over 15 years of gender differences in salaries of men and women in the Public Relations Society of America. The men and women they have studied have perceived gender differences in hiring, salaries, and advancement opportunities. Wrigley (2002) found “negotiated resignation” in focus group discussions of white women public relations practitioners to the glass ceilings in their organizations.

Sha and Toth’s (2005) survey data of Public Relations Student Society of America members suggested that the women public relations students already perceived differences in career opportunities.

Aldoory, Jiang, Sha and Toth (2008) described similar and different societal and public relations industry expectations about how public relations men and women cope with their work and life.

Martin contributed to the discussion on the lack men in public relations that his younger male colleagues “don’t perceive the monetary reward–or lack of same–that certain professions promise” (2008). Martin wrote that “male college grads come out of the chute very competitive and they often equate ‘best’ with most financially rewarding” (2008).

The diversity issues that public relations professionals have reported are barriers to insuring requisite variety is available to help organizations achieve their public relations goals.

Conclusion

This essay discussed the accelerating influence of diversity on building successful relationships with constituent groups. It suggested that public relations practitioners and executives can gain diversity competencies- knowledge, skills, and leadership abilities- to more successfully practice public relations domestically and internationally. It described the lack of diversity in the public relations industry and some of the diversity issues reported by groups identified by their gender and multicultural characteristics. It concludes with practical guides for developing diversity skills and additional research reports.

Practical Guides

Fiske, R. M. (2007). Baseline study on diversity segments: The U.S. Hispanic/Latino Market. Institute for Public Relations, Gainesville, FL.

Hispanic/Latino demographics, cultural nuances, group characteristics and communication preferences described. Recommended are communications-based strategies for addressing Hispanic/Latino audiences. Hispanic/Latinos are diverse social economically and generationally, from distinct national origins, religions, and racial classifications.

How can the profession increased its diversity? (2005). PR Strategist, pp. 12-13.

Based on a diversity survey by Applebaum and Ford, several recommendations listed: Actions for recruitment, to retain multicultural practitioners, and actions for multicultural practitioners.

Mazzei, A. & Ravazzani (2008, Jan. 25-6). Leveraging differences in a global competitive context: A qualitative analysis. Paper presented to the 7th International Congress on Marketing Trends. Venice, Italy.

Provides a model for interpreting and diagnosing the diversity efforts of organizations, illustrated in three case studies: IBM, Microsoft and Deutsche Bank. The authors argue against merely assimilating minorities into the organization or seeking to manage diversity issues. They argue for a model that leverages differences and identities to gain competitive advantage.

Multicultural Public Relations Planning Toolkit.

www.prsa.org/diversity/documents/PRPLANNINGTOOLKIT_FINAL.pdf

Provides comprehensive multicultural/diversity contact names and organizations to reach African-American, Arab-American, Asian-American, Disabled-American, GBLT, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American organizations with contact information; Top 25 Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American, Arab-American markets; Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American, Arab- American and Native-American media facts. Also listed are Metro DC special practitioners and firms and a calendar of multicultural events.

PR Coalition (2005). Focus on diversity: Lowering the barriers, raising the bar. Unpublished white paper, Arthur Page Society, New York.

Practical guide based on survey results from 362 public relations and communication professionals. Contains steps for recruiting, mentoring and advocating for diversity through support programs and communication; a resource guide to diversity focused organizations, programs, scholarships, and incentives. Also included are readings, books, and models for diversity programs.

Silverman, D. & Paterson, J. (2007). Diversity in public relations: Tips for communicating with diverse publics. Unpublished publication of The Buffalo Niagara Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

Practical guidelines for each phase of the public relations planning process. Practitioners must consider diversity in the research, strategy, tactics, and evaluation phases. Practitioners cannot generalize about any publics or audiences. Practitioners must gather sound information about perceptions, attitudes and values, and behaviors when seeking to build relationships with key groups. Based on this research, practitioners can choose effective communication strategies, such as preferred rhetorical styles, tone, language, and spokespersons. Tactically, practitioners must deliver messages based on knowledge of preferred media consumption habits and even whether to translate messages or have the messages created originally in the preferred language of the public is a tactical choice that needs to be made based on prior research. Practitioner should honestly evaluate using such metrics as attitude and behavioral changes, increased attention, or interpersonal feedback to improve their future efforts.

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Posted in [Research Library], Diversity and Public Relations.

3 Comments

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