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Diversity Today: Fostering an Inclusive Communications Culture


October 1, 2013

We asked 12 communications professionals what they think about the current diversity landscape and what excited them most about the future. Here’s what they said:

What trends do you see on the horizon for diversity as it relates to public relations and communications, and what are you excited about as you look toward the future?


“The profession is recognizing that diversity internally stretches beyond race and gender. Research from young scholars is pushing ideas of looking at segmentation that use all factors to create messaging. The Cross-Cultural Marketer Association is tapping into this idea of publics and audiences that spills into multiple categories. Also, we have more scholars examining LGBT PR practitioners. I see small pockets of change and networking across the United States. Where the profession flagged in creating a pipeline of diverse candidates, others have taken up the cause.
For future initiatives, I hope the profession shifts its focus to creating a pipeline of talented PR students and professionals, and looks to mentoring and exposure programs that grab students early and nurture professional developments at key points in the lifespan.”

Natalie T. J. Tindall, Ph.D., APR, associate professor and graduate director, Department of Communication, Georgia State University


“The term ‘diversity’ in a PR context will continue to evolve in unique and unpredictable ways. Social, technological, cultural and other trends will continue to redefine diversity, spawning new market segments that don’t exist today. Keeping a pulse on these trends in diversity will ensure that PR professionals add value by speaking clearly through appropriate channels to the segments that can impact their company’s bottom line. An exciting prospect for the future is that more businesses will be forced to embrace the benefits of an approach to diversity that aligns with key communications and business objectives, rather than obligations to achieve corporate responsibility.”

Jesse Davis, APR, director of international public relations, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority


“The landscape of our future is a dynamic, complex system of interdependent diverse communities — a landscape of challenges. Yet, this ‘future description’ contains some of the very properties that research has shown help propel innovation through diversity. I prefer to think of the future as one of opportunity — as a call to action to create bold, new research-based models for crafting such useful and interesting diversity messages that people feel compelled to talk and share, and to use environmental reminders, for example, as one means to foster more frequent use of empirically-based practical tools in day-to-day team work.”

Raji Rhys, Ph.D., board member, National Association of Chief Diversity Officers in Higher Education


“One interesting trend is the increased number of women opting out of the traditional workplace setting and, instead, becoming entrepreneurs. What is being dubbed as ‘The New Women’s Movement’ by some, this mass exodus speaks volumes about workplace diversity. If women are not feeling respected and their unique contributions are not valued within a traditional workplace setting, then they are creating that environment for themselves. This particular trend excites me because having more women serving organizations as independent practitioners means greater opportunities to tell stories and create messages and images from a previously silenced perspective.”

Dionne C. Clemons, Ph.D., M.P.A., strategic communications thought leader and educator


“Four trends stick out. First, social media has transformed the U.S. Hispanic and multicultural marketing space to the point that, for the past two years, public relations and social media are inseparable. Second, the importance of reaching and engaging with bloggers is now equal to that of pitching traditional journalists. Third, Hispanic journalists are embracing new media not just as a tool to fulfill their own employment in traditional media companies, but also as a potential gateway to their own new ventures. And fourth, employment opportunities for PR pros who enter multicultural marketing are growing faster than the number of people to fill those positions. Multicultural marketing is increasingly being seen as the new mainstream and this phenomenon is only poised to grow.”

Manny Ruiz, founder, Hispanicize Wire & Hispanicize 2014


“Today, it is insufficient for communicators to rely on traditional demographic and psychographic segmentation principles when crafting messaging. Rather, communicators must be cognizant of the diversity within these overarching categories (race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) to more authentically reach, represent and have lasting relationships with their multidimensional global audiences. Thus, on the horizon, there are continued shifts in how communicators segment their audiences and subsequently tailor their cross-platform messaging. With these changes come the excitement and challenge of reconfiguring the segmentation process, further refining communication strategies and continually mastering new platforms through which to reach audiences.”

Laurie M. Phillips, assistant professor of public relations, University of Oregon


“PRSA’s focus on diversity has attracted interest throughout the PR community and beyond. We’re expecting proposals from several leading universities to our RFPs. We’re looking for ideas on research to better understand the challenges diversity candidates face and also on programs aimed at improving the pipeline with more African-American and Hispanic students choosing public relations as a major. Most of the leading organizations in our profession have also approached us about opportunities to collaborate. We are very encouraged by the response.”

Louis Capozzi, APR, Fellow PRSA, adjunct professor, New York University; and president, PRSA Foundation


“‘Millenials equal multicultural’ is what I am hearing at conferences, from companies and from the Census. Among the under-29 and particularly the under-18 set, the population is already minority-majority. By the year 2042, it is predicted that the entire United States will be a country where the non-White population is the majority. Rather than a ‘trend’ that might change direction, we are on the path to this new reality. Diversity of people at our firms leads to diversity of thoughts and ideas, and this leads to increased outlets to success.”

Lisa Skriloff, president, Multicultural Marketing Resources


“In public relations, the emphasis on diversity is essential because of the broad-based message that practitioners encourage their clients to pursue as they translate their community outreach and corporate goodwill. Without a wide spectrum of representation that includes people from all walks of life, the concepts and ideas that can best reflect our global environment are transmitted from a mindset that is narrow in scope, thus minimizing the message and reducing its effectiveness in reach and authenticity. A new trend that I look forward to seeing in public relations is the ability of multifaceted communities to broadcast and bridge their ideas, preferences and styles across all cultures. This is the new challenge for today’s marketers and where the shifts are currently headed.”

Zing Shaw, vice president of U.S. diversity and inclusion, Edelman


“As organizations focus on the inclusion of people and the diversity of thought, commitments are shifting from providing support to affinity groups within a company, to also identifying opportunities for those affinity groups to contribute to a company’s business strategy, corporate social responsibility efforts and bottom line. This trend provides a very exciting opportunity for PR practitioners because as the affinity group’s activities move out of the office and into local communities, a more universally relevant story-sharing opportunity is created. Diversity and inclusion topics will finally break out of the internal communications realm and into external communications.”

Enrico Dinges, M.A., public relations, corporate communications, Sodexo


“We are seeing communications strategies and tactics, formerly labeled as ‘diverse,’ becoming more mainstream. I think this is exciting because it shows more acceptance overall of diverse points of view regardless of race, gender geography, sexual orientation or ability. Our role in identifying messaging that resonates with various audiences can help unify these different points of view. It is amazing how many cultures you can rally around one central theme when it is positioned effectively. This ability should set us apart in the value we can deliver to our clients when compared to other C-suite peers.”

Jennifer Darwin, APR, senior vice president and corporate communications manager, Bank of America


“For years, we at Verizon have focused on building teams rich in diverse perspectives and backgrounds. That bench strength has always been an asset, but it’s more important than ever. Communicators, in particular, must think globally and locally and do it all in the time that it takes to tweet. The term ‘glocal’ captures this need very efficiently. It’s not so much a budding trend as it is a skill that every communicator needs to develop, to constantly exercise. As our team has discovered, sometimes your biggest influencers are continents away.”

Alberto Canal, vice president of corporate communications, Verizon Communications


Managing Editor Amy Jacques compiled the responses from these 12 thought leaders.



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