It is no surprise that there is an extreme lack of diversity in the industry. According to the 2014 US Census, 13.2-percent of the U.S. population is African-American. Alarmingly though, only 8.7-percent of the public relations industry is African-American. The quote, “you can’t be what you can’t see” has always stuck with me, and has played into my desire towards becoming a public relations practitioner.
On my first day in an agency, I walked in as an intern, and very green. Though I had not grown up in an all African-American community, or attended an HBCU, I still found myself struggling to “coexist.” Being the minority in an enclosed system in which there was no trajectory for people who look like you was completely alarming. I found myself sticking to myself, because at the bare minimum, even the jokes they found to be knee slappers barely tickled my fancy, if at all. But of course, as an intern I thought that there was nothing that I could do.
Two weeks after being hired into the agency full-time, I was invited to a women in leadership webinar. One of the first questions that they posed to us, were are there enough women in leadership positions? Without even having to mentally scan the entire office, the answer was obvious. For those who are unfamiliar, the field of public relations is dominated by white women. However in that moment, it reintroduced me to the stark reality that there were not a lot of people who looked like me. Not only in my office, but in the industry as a whole. So it was in that moment, that I had the idea to create a proposal that could potentially change that.
I immediately went back to my desk and drafted a program that would change the way that we looked at diverse hiring, training and retention efforts from a holistic perspective. Once completed, I packaged it up sent it off to our Chief People Office at the time. To my dismay, she instantly responded by thanking me for taking the lead on these efforts and that she would be in touch soon. Now, I wasn't quite sure what her definition of soon was, but nearly two months later I was sent a calendar invite to a meeting with a couple of the heavy hitters in our agency.
Once we arrived she thanked everyone for attending and immediately gave me the floor to talk through my proposal in detail. By the end of the meeting, we left with actionables and a budget. This happened almost a year ago, so why am I sharing this now?
I know that there is a sense of helplessness in being the minority. But how long are you going to complain about it before you take calculated action towards either creating your own lane or changing the one that you’re in? Additionally, it doesn’t matter how junior you are, how young you are or how powerless you feel. Change can be created by anyone, so be empowered by being apart of the minority.