Why are we so behind the curve on diversity in PR?

In my previous posts reflecting on my 20 years in a PR agency, I have written about the challenges, opportunities and changes I have seen over two decades agency-side. In my final one I return to an issue I feel strongly about, which in recent years the PRCA and other agency and in-house leaders have rightly become active on, but where change is very slow. I am talking about diversity.

Although there is research that shows, in terms of leadership roles and closing gender pay gaps in the UK, we still have way to go on gender equality, I am proud to be at an agency in which the majority of leaders in the UK are women, and that has been named by no less that The Holmes Report as the most gender equal of all the global agencies. (Proud also that we are a #HeForShe office in London.)

Although in the past our industry has, to its cost, lost a lot of female talent and experience post having children, more enlightened attitudes to flexible working, and the digital communications revolution, have largely seen an end to such rhinoceros-hide attitudes amongst agency and in-house heads.

Over my 20 years I have not heard any of my lesbian or gay colleagues express any experience of career limiting prejudice in agencies. Some of my top and most successful colleagues, and friends in PR elsewhere, are gay.

Our failure is racial and social diversity. We are not alone in that. But we are the industry that claims to be the dialogue facilitators between organisations and their publics.

As I have done previously, I turned to PR Week as a reflection of our business. I counted all the photos in the recent edition. Out of 63 pictures of PR leaders, commentators and agency people, 61 were white. Worryingly, this edition included the industry’s top 30 under 30 rising stars.

In a subsequent edition, the situation was similar, and one of the few non whites pictured was actually President Obama.

As an industry that claims to understand Britain, we need to look and be a little more like modern Britain. It’s not good enough to merely claim to be an equal opportunities employer, and that anyone is free to apply for our traineeships. We have to work harder on outreach schemes to schools – given the potential talent from less advantaged backgrounds who are now put off university by the prospect of eye watering debt – as well as the less socially elite universities. We have to break down cultural barriers and misconceptions that stop young talent from considering our industry in the first place.

I am not the only agency leader I know who says he wouldn’t get on his own apprentice scheme these days, being a working class half Irish Salfordian with a second class arts degree from a lesser (in the league tables) university.

There are schemes out there – the PRCA and others can advise – and models like the excellent work The Media Trust does with media organisations. We just need to commit, show some leadership in our organisations, and try a bit harder to make real and not cosmetic change.

I am the first to admit that I have only dented the surface in my own agency. But I intend to keep trying.