I’m in my 25th year as President/CEO of Barfield Public Relations, Inc. and my experiences have been broad-ranging, exciting, and often, transformative. I love PR. Every day, I know that my work can make a difference. Over the decades, I’ve been honored, praised and rejected for my work and passion for PR. Humility kept me pushing forward. And, memories keep me focused on the work that lies ahead in our industry.
A Lasting Memory… and a Biting Sting.
I once sat in a public relations networking meeting, held in the auditorium of a large PR firm. I remember that one of the speeches at the meeting was made by the host, who said that agency work is tough and that agency executives usually hire people who “look like them.” All these years later, that statement has stuck with me. Sadly, it is also echoed in the Conference Board’s report on “Diversity in the Workplace”:
“We Value Differences” is the diversity mantra in most organizations. The problem is, we typically do not like differences. Behavioral studies show that we tend to bond with others who look and act like we do, and steer away from those who are different. We socialize with people who do what we do, think like we think, even look like we look. http://prfirms.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Go-Ahead-Sweat-the-Small-Stuff.pdf
The report goes on to say that people use subtle — and not so subtle – ways to keep those who don’t look like them outside of their circle. They do this by engaging in “microinequities,” according to the Conference Board report. That “microinequities” continue to thrive in the PR agency world comes as no surprise to PR professionals of color. Perhaps that explains why the influential Council of PR Firms, with 50,000 members, chose to post the report. Indeed, people of color in PR are quite familiar with “microinequities”:
- Everyone who’s working on X account team gets an e-mail about the client meeting — except you.
- Or, you put forth an idea at a brainstorming session, and nobody seems to notice your idea – until someone who’s not of color says the exact same idea. You simply aren’t heard or seen.
- Or, how many times have you learned of important client account information or events – days after everyone else on the team? That’s when you learn that someone “forgot” to copy you on the memo. Again.
What can we do to address these “microinequities” in our profession? How can differences truly be respected in PR agencies and Corporate America? What steps can PR leaders take to reassess “looks like me” hiring and begin hiring PR professionals of color?
In my next “Reflections,” I’ll explore these questions and offer what I believe are some ways to arm both the PR leaders and the PR pros of color so that, together, we can begin providing answers. Join me for my next “Reflections: PR Is My Business” and share on Facebook and Twitter.