Minnesota PRSA’s Path Toward D&I Excellence

November 2020
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What do you do when a tragedy happens in your own backyard? This was the situation facing PRSA’s Minnesota Chapter when George Floyd lost his life at the hands of law enforcement in Minneapolis in late May. 

Floyd’s death set off a wave of emotions across the world as organizations declared their support for the movement against racial injustice. 

The Minnesota Chapter made meaningful strides — before, during and after these events — to achieve equitable outcomes. It’s why they were the recipient of this year’s Chapter Diversity Award at PRSA’s ICON 2020 virtual conference in October. Here’s how they did it:

A compelling story 

Minnesota PRSA’s D&I efforts have been a few years in the making. Back in 2018, the Chapter of roughly 200-300 members voted to add a Diversity and Inclusion Officer (DIO) to its board to serve a two-year term. The responsibilities included putting together the First Annual Diversity and Inclusion Forum, which took place in November 2019. 

Members of the Chapter’s D&I committee were successful in securing major local partners in The Minneapolis Foundation and Captive Media with sponsorship by Medtronic. The event featured an in-depth panel discussion that focused on the story of a local school with a predominantly Black student population. 

Through the combined efforts of Minneapolis Public Schools’ communications team and the local NBC affiliate, the school became the subject of an award-winning film, “Love Them First: Lessons from Lucy Laney Elementary.”  

The Chapter’s D&I liaison, Marsha R. Pitts-Phillips, received this year’s D. Parke Gibson Pioneer Award at ICON 2020. The award recognizes a communicator who has helped expand awareness of public relations within multicultural communities.

A community connection

For the 2020-21 academic year, Minnesota PRSA is partnering with Weber Shandwick’s Minneapolis office to increase internship opportunities for students at Metropolitan State University (Metro State). The university serves as a pillar for the Twin Cities. In the 2018-19 academic year, 60 percent of Metro State’s students were enrolled part-time. Metro State also boasts a diverse student population with 50 percent students of color, with an average age of 30.

With many students balancing studies with full-time work, Metro State has been unable to host a PRSSA Chapter.

By working together with one of the world’s leading PR agencies, Minnesota PRSA is working to bring an equitable solution for a population of students who are often disregarded from receiving the career development they need to stay in the profession.

A foundation for the future

This summer, PRSA’s Board of Directors partnered with the National Diversity & Inclusion Committee to establish the first permanent endowment to ensure funding for the annual PRSA Diversity Multicultural Scholarship. Minnesota PRSA served as an inaugural donor of the scholarship by allocating $2,500 of its budget toward the national endowment’s goal of raising $50,000. 

“This year, we’ve seen Chapters step up with their game — building strategies, demonstrating a true commitment to creating safe spaces and having those tough conversations where members can listen and learn from one another,” said Andrea Gils, co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion National Committee. “The Chapter showed vision and leadership, and the plan… involved board commitments, training and development, virtual panels, community engagement programs and advocacy.” 

Recognizing Chapter D&I Leaders

2nd Place: Orange County 

The Chapter provided implicit bias training: first to Board members, then to its members and nonmembers in late June. They also elected a Black woman, Brenda Springer, as Chapter president for the first time and implemented an informal ambassador program for leaders to connect with new members at events.

Honorable Mention: Central Ohio

The Chapter produced an array of events to connect with the Greater Columbus community of professionals on topics like implicit bias and LGBTQ acceptance. To recognize excellence in D&I campaigns from local organizations, they also established the inaugural PRism Awards in May.

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Chapter D&I liaison Marsha R. Pitts-Phillips