Helping Bring Racial Equity to Public Relations
By Anita Ford Saunders, APR
PRSA has long helped support PRSSA members from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). Much of the outreach to these students has been through scholarships and grants managed by the PRSA Foundation. This financial assistance has been life-changing for countless students.
However, there is more that we can do as PRSA members. This year, conversations with PRSSA faculty advisers at these schools have reiterated the need to financially support these students and help them network, develop professionally and find solid career prospects.
Here’s where members can play a pivotal role. Local PRSA Chapters sponsor PRSSA Chapters in their area, not only in writing but also in spirit and responsibility. Chapters in close proximity to HBCUs or HSIs can provide many kinds of assistance.
This past June, after George Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police, I participated along with Felicia Blow, APR, Kim Clark and Deme Jackson in two webinars hosted by PRSA’s Employee Communications Section. More than 1,600 people signed up for these events (recaps are here and here), which included courageous, thought-provoking conversations that were long overdue.
During these webinars, dozens of participants asked the same question: “What can I do to help bring greater racial equity to the PR profession?” Here are some suggestions for how to do just that:
• Be open to the possibility that you may have unconsciously been a barrier to equity. Be honest, forthright, and genuinely inquisitive about understanding the challenges faced by students of color in our profession. What you learn will make you a better PR practitioner.
• Consider having your Chapter, Section and District leaders participate in unconscious-bias or implicit-bias training offered or planned by PRSA.
• Designate someone at your Chapter to be responsible for maintaining these relationships. However, please remember it’s not the responsibility of just one person — there needs to be commitment at all levels.
• Provide meaningful internship opportunities. If internships are not available, arrange for a student to shadow you in the workplace when it’s safe or ask them to sit in on a video conference call. You might be surprised at the difference a few hours can make.
• Sustain your mentorship of the student or intern into the future.
More ideas can be found in PRSA’s updated Diversity & Inclusion Chapter Toolkit. While designed for Chapters, the ideas can be tailored for Districts and Professional Interest Sections.
As we look forward to the next decade (I’m so done with 2020), let’s remember that diversity and inclusion are vital to the success of our profession, our members and the communities in which we live and work. It is our responsibility as members of the Society to carry this forward.