Why isn’t PR a diverse industry?

PR isn’t a diverse industry.

There, I said it.

Only 8% of PR practitioners are from ethnic minorities. This is according to the PRCA, reported this week on the Guardian. I’m saving the reasons why this needs to change for a future blog post, but today I’m going to explore why, in my experience, PR isn’t a diverse industry.

It starts at home

Doctor. Banker. Lawyer. Accountant. These are respectable professions for anyone faced with a standard BME upbringing. Whilst David Cameron was recently in India ‘welcoming’ new students to the UK, it’s worth looking back at migration patterns and the impact that had on where we are today. In my experience to date, Indians who made the move in the 1970s to Britain had to bring a skill. A universal skill that could be easily transplanted from their homeland to the British Isles.

Similar to attitudes towards marriage and education, the hang ups related to professions still exist. I can’t speak for all minorities, but parents of Indian children will still express pride at their offspring becoming a doctor, banker, lawyer or accountant. If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard “but so-and-so’s’ son has a job at this-or-that bank” I’d be a millionaire. Simply put, within many BME communities, anything other than these professions is not respectable.

That isn’t to say that those who chose that path are doing it out of obligation, but what it does mean is that anyone looking to pursue a career in media, marketing or perhaps hospitality needs either very open-minded parents or a hardened determination to make it.

One foot in the door

Let’s say you’ve made that decision to go against your parents wishes and force a career in PR or something similar, you snag a break and land yourself an interview. Mubarak! However referring to that 8% stat above, once you get your foot in the door, you look around and struggle to find ‘someone like you’ in the room or even the office.

Again for many this isn’t important, but for a lot of people (myself included) it’s important to look around your future peers and be assured that there are others who are similar to you (be it gender, race or even dress sense) that you know you will be able to learn from and work well together with. In my working life so far I have only met one other British male Asian doing consumer PR.

Tanya Joseph gave a great example at this week’s first PRCA Diversity Network meeting of a pitch she experienced. The pitch was related to engaging with a diverse group of people, and she was faced with four white middle-upper class men. As an accomplished communications practitioner, Tanya could see the problem, and indeed irony, with this and rightly fed back her feelings. However for someone entering the industry, being faced with a similar audience in your first or second interview could be a) extremely daunting and b) a total put off for forging your way into PR.

Adapt or adios

Having studied German diaspora at university and being a British Indian, I’m familiar with the issues with adapting two cultures in order to make it work for you. On the one hand, being from a minority is a point of difference that can help you to excel and stand out, on the other you have to adapt it and mould it to the culture you’re in and the ways of working it brings with it.

For many this is very difficult. Hybrid ethnicities often tend to stick together. The professions mentioned have a higher percentage of hybrid minorities working within them, thus making it easier to find people from the same background and not have to adapt (or flex) your culture too much. In diasporic terms, you are not between two stools or ‘on the bridge’ because you’re able to find one side that works best for you.

A Change is Gonna Come

Those are just three thoughts as to why I think PR isn’t a diverse industry. Not for much longer. With the PRCA Diversity Network, the CIPR Diversity Working Group and the Taylor Bennett Foundation all working hard, a change is gonna come as Sam Cooke put it.

Stay tuned for more on how I’m getting involved. If you’re reading this and want some advice hit contact; I’d be happy to help.

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