Sunday, 14 March 2010

White, young, female - perfect for the job

"All people are equal, but some are more equal than others" (based on George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' - "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal then others")

Sexism, ageism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia. They are realities of the societies we live in; they are realities that we face on the playground as kids, in school as teenagers, and at the workplace as adults.

As human begins we tend to be scared of things and people that are different from us and react to that fear accordingly: by discriminating. Diversity is all about learning to identify, recognize, accept and value these differences - they are what make us what we are, what makes us uniquely special, valuable and exceptional.

Margaret Anderson and Patricia Collins offer a definition of diversity that sums up the main notions that other authors have tackled in regard to the subject: “Diversity is about an awareness of and sensitivity to the intersections of race, class and gender, about seeing linkages to other categories of analysis, including sexuality, age, religion, physical disability, national identity and ethnicity, and about appreciating the disparities of power that produce social inequities (2006, p. 1).

Accepting differences, leaving prejudices and intolerance aside, is a hard step to take for many; but getting to value and celebrate these differences is what truly matters and where the real challenge appears.

If there is a field out there that would mostly benefit from embracing differences - building a team around a group of religion, age, gender and ethnically diverse people - that is the communication industry. What profession, other than being a communicator, would benefit more from being able to send out a large array of culturally and ethnically loaded messages? And what other profession than public relations would benefit more from understanding the population dynamics of race and ethnicity? There isn't a bigger influence on building successful relationships with constituent groups than diversity.

Having an age, gender and ethnically diverse team would benefit a PR company in more than one way: it would attract a larger palette of clients, it would help deliver more complex and target-specific strategies, and it would promote and demonstrate a deeper understanding of the public and audiences.

There is nothing less constructive than stereotyping people according to race, gender, religion etc; these oversimplified human perceptions oppress individuals and groups, as they are reduced by inaccurate judgments. Judging people according to stereotypes means that they carry a mark, which makes them unable to show off their true, unique, individual capabilities and their creative personalities get lost on the way.  (For a bit of comic relief here's a video that perfectly plays on the stereotypes of men vs women.)

International public relations practitioners face even greater diversity, operating “across time zones, within different political, economic, and social systems and with varying media constraints” (Wakefield, 2008, p. 141). Global PR professional seek relationships with multinational populations that differ in race, national income, literacy, religion, culture, technology, governance, and language. According to GeoHive, over 60 % of the world population is Asian, 14 % is African, approximately 11% lives in Europe and only about 5 percent lives in North America. According to 33% of the world populations is Christian, 21% Islamic, 14% Hindu, 6% Buddhist, 6% Chinese-traditional, 6% primal-indigenous, 2% other and 16% non-religious.

The traits and attributes that make a PR professional the best in his or her field are flexibility, respect, empathy, having a strong cultural and ethnical self-awareness, mastering conflict resolution, cross-cultural communication and language development skills. And these attributes are best perfected by knowing how to value and embrace differences, while working in diverse environments.

None of these facts represent a novelty; people in the industry are aware of their bearing and significance. And still PR is dominated by white, middle-class females and run by white middle class men. How can PR pros provide the requisite variety to organizations to help them reach their audiences and objectives, if they are themselves insufficiently diverse?

PR is an overwhelmingly 'white' profession that offers few, if any, high-profile role models from minority groups. This low visibility of these groups is a big problem for the industry and can become a true cornerstone for the future of public relations. Which means that a vital priority for the profession right now is breaking down entry barriers for all minorities and encouraging diversity, from an ethical, legal, business-oriented, HR and technical perspective.

A lot of attention has been given to the issue of diversity by the CIPR, who has a special website dedicated to it. Visitors can go there to find out more about what is being done in this matter, to see the diversity policy, download case studies or read testimonials of people from all background who are making a name for themselves in PR.


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