Diversity in PR

I’m really enjoying the new-style PR Week monthly magazine with its insightful articles and opinion pieces.

One piece in particular caught my eye this week – “Young, gifted… and flack?” which talked about a new scheme to educate more young people about PR and bring greater diversity to the industry because “PR people tend to be white and middle class.”

Now in Northern Ireland discussions around equality and diversity tend to focus on which religious or community background a person comes from. But in my experience, the local PR industry also suffers the same fate of our counterparts across the water. I have yet to meet anyone in the local industry who isn’t white. As for middle class…

I remember first encountering this at university, as a “ghetto girl” from an urban comprehensive, realising quickly that many of the people in my PR course were from what I considered to be wealthy backgrounds. They drove their own cars, wore all the latest high-street clothes and, unlike me, didn’t need to hold down part-time jobs to finance this expenditure.

Later, when I experienced agency life, I saw similar trends. People working in the agencies because they were related to the owners. People focusing a lot on what cars they drove and how often they “ate out”. Manicures and hair appointments were also a weekly occurrence for the lady-folk. I even heard one horror story from a student on placement who was ridiculed because her cardigan label exposed her shopping habits in good ol’ Primagucci.

PR Week’s article discusses some of the factors contributing to this imbalance in the industry, including unpaid placements and competition leading to the adage of “it’s who you know, not what you know” being so important to entering the field. But I also feel that it has a lot to do with how well the profession is known, understood and respected.

I personally became interested in it after watching a reality show on MTV which followed young girls working for a PR agency in New York (“PoweR Girls“). Looking back it was a very fluffy, sexist take on the world of PR, but I was 15 – give me a break!

Power Girls MTV

Nevertheless, I thought it seemed like a creative, exciting, ever-changing kind of job and felt it was just as important to the economy as Law or Business or any of the other professions the school careers teachers were trying to steer me towards. It would also prove to be much more rewarding to me personally than traditional careers like Teaching or Medicine (which were also pushed my way).

I suspect that, unlike me, most local 15 year olds don’t really know what a life in Comms would be like and so they’re not really making an informed decision about it. I’m also living proof that you don’t need to come from a wealthy family, you don’t need parents in business and you don’t need to drive a Mini Cooper to school to be able to succeed in it.

And thankfully, there are increasingly more people like me. After all, if it’s our job to engage a wide range of audiences, we can’t all be “ABC1s” now, can we? And I think we all have a role to play in ensuring we do our bit to inform and promote the industry to as many young people as possible.

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