Diversity and Inclusion is Here to Stay

By Elsabete Kebede

When I submitted my application for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Foundation Travel Grant sometime in June, I knew it was a long-shot. The grant allowed 10 multicultural students nationwide an all-expenses paid trip to Austin, Texas for the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) National Conference. I applied anyway. In August, as I waited in line for my lunch at Whole Foods, I got an email that notified me I was a recipient.

As it was my first PRSSA National Conference, I was so excited to attend and a larger part of my excitement was due to the timely themes and sessions taking place. One of the sessions that I attended was “Celebrating Black Public Relations Industry”, where I was able to learn about the untold stories of PR practitioners that paved the way for many leaders now. In any industry, there is power and value in seeing successful people that look like you. When I see people of color, especially women of color in leadership positions, it tells me that it is possible for me to reach that level as well.  

This year the PRSA Foundation published Diverse Voices, a book that shares the unique and inspiring stories of 40 multicultural PR professionals.  The Foundation generously gave me a copy and I was delighted to see that Kim Hunter was one of the featured professionals. As a LAGRANT scholarship recipient, I am one of the many students Kim has helped with academic and professional development. As graduation approaches and I prepare to beginmy career, I plan on working for a progressive, diverse, and socially aware company. The work that the PRSA and LAGRANT Foundation do, along with so many others, is what directs me to the people I would like to work with and for. Please note that I am not the only one. In a 2016 study done by the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and Weber Shandwick, 47% of millennials consider diversity and inclusion as “important criteria” in their job search. Yet, the public relations industry has a diversity gap; in 2016, the U.S. Census stated that 81.5% of professionals identified as white.

Though I cannot imagine the number of people of color in high-level positions fares well, they do exist.  I was fortunate enough to meet some of those individuals at the PRSSA conference, some of which who even advocated for the creation of the travel grant. It’s an incredible and inspiring to be around industry leaders who are unafraid to challenge the status quo.

I’m grateful that there are organizations like Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP), The LAGRANT Foundation, PRSA Foundation and others that are active in helping the next generation of diverse communications practitioners build their career.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Kim, that I think all industry leaders should keep in mind: “Our industry will be better off when leaders embrace diversity and inclusion as a fundamental business imperative throughout the enterprise. Be vulnerable be open. Embrace the present. Embrace the future.”

Diversity and inclusion should not be something nice to have, but imperative to each organization. Diverse communicators are the future of the PR industry and my peers and I are eternally grateful for the existing support system. Due to the tireless work of you all, we will reach new heights, break down more barriers, and lead a public relations industry that truly is diverse and inclusive.