Diversity in PR- Or The Lack Thereof

When I think of the type of people who go into the public relations field, I think of one type and one type only. To be blunt, the image that comes to mind is: white girls. Lots and lots of white girls. White women, to be more politically correct. Caucasian women, to be the most PC here.

Are there white males? Sure, in the advertising department. Are there people of other races, ethnicities, cultures? I’m sure there are. But where are they?

My own public relations classes at GVSU usually consist of roughly 20 white girls [including myself], 5 or 6 men [usually 1 is African-American], and then maybe, maybe 2 or 3 or 4 girls of other races- Asian, Hispanic, Arabic, Black, Mixed Heritage, etc.

Being a “white girl” myself, maybe that’s what I tend to notice: the overwhelming amount of girls like me. A natural type of attraction or gravitation that human beings have to people of our same “type,” following the sense of comfort that comes from self-segregating as early as elementary school. Remember in high school when the black kids would sit on one side of the lunch room and the white kids on the other? Then they would self-segregate further; the cheerleaders together, the artsy kids together, the marching band members together… you remember? You may even notice it still on Grand Valley’s campus.


Photo courtesy of Grand Valley State University, Photographer: Mitch Ranger

In my preliminary research for writing this post, I found an overwhelming number of articles expressing discontent with the amount of racial diversity in the professional public relations field. Lee Hayes, Chief Client Officer at Lagrant Communications, blogged on The Holmes Report in February of 2013 that efforts to diversify his industry over the course of his 20-year career were severely underwhelming. In his own words, he admits that “white women and members of the LGBT community have risen to senior-level positions at some of the biggest and most prestigious advertising, marketing and PR agencies in the business. But the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at all levels of the communications industry continues to be our profession’s dirty little secret.”

A 2012 communications theses put forth by Amber H. Irizarry from Georgia State University compiled a number of statistics concerning racial and ethnic diversity in various professions. According to the BPRI Group, 79.5% of all public relations positions in the United States are held by Caucasians (p. 8). The study further purports that “minorities” [AN: I hate that word] represent a mere 3.9% of senior management positions and only 13% of non-management positions (p. 8), although according to the U.S. Census Bureau, minorities make up 36.5% of the population as a whole (Hayes, 2013).

Why the disparity? There are many theories, the most prominent of which seems to consider a mix of discrimination and lack of [diversity] education within PR firms.

The Public Relations Society of America, the national professional organization for PR practitioners, has recognized the dire need for racial diversity and has implemented means to achieve it; they created a National Diversity Committee that doubled “diverse” membership from 7% to 14% between 2005 and 2010 (Irizarry, 2012, p. 8).

A study by Anne M. McMahon published in the 2010 Journal of Diversity Management (p. 37-48) found a positive correlation between racial diversity in the workforce and long-term firm performance. The same study also found that “women and non-whites have more positive UDO [Universal-Diverse Orientation] attitudes,” meaning that these groups of people are more open to incorporating persons of different races and ethnicities other than their own into the workplace (p. 40).

A field dominated by women with UDO attitudes is ripe for the diverse picking. I recommend that PR firms take advantage of the current socio-political state and work towards incorporating persons of varying genders, familial backgrounds, races, ethnicities, nationalities, ages, marital statuses, etcetera etcetera to benefit themselves in the long run.


Hayes, L. (2013). Lack of Diverrsity Is PR Industry’s Dirty Little Secret. The Holmes Report. Retrieved from http://holmesreport.com/opinion-info/13071/Lack-Of-Diversity-Is-PR-Industrys-Dirty-Little-Secret.aspx

Irizarry, A. H. (2012). Understanding Diversity: Top Executives’Perceptions of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Public Relations. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=communication_theses

McMahon, A. M. (2010). Does Workplace Diversity Matter? A Survey Of Empirical Studies On Diversity And Firm Performance, 2000-09. Journal of Diversity Management, 5.2, 37-48. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/506632206#