Awareness, Accesss and Subconscious Bias: Lack of Diversity in PR

From the CIPR’s report on student perspectives of the profession, we learn that awareness of PR is very low. Only 9% of BAME students said they would consider a career in PR. Other students (37%) stated they wanted a career in an established, well-respected field such as science, medicine, banking or law. Another interesting statistic is that 80% BAME students are likely to be influenced by their family on career choices.

Here we’ve identified a lack of awareness of the public relations profession. Some students were aware of the field and willing to look into a future career in it, however, other students felt that the field wasn’t established or well-respected like other professions that their families may want them to pursue.

Knowing this, it’s the job of the profession to reach out to potential students to let them know about the development of the industry and the possible career opportunities that it may hold for them. This message also needs to be spread to their families as they are likely influences in picking career paths.

Gaining access to the profession is yet another barrier that keeps diversity low in PR. Many of the internships and graduate schemes that are available to potential practitioners are unpaid positions often lasting up to a yearlong.  For many BAME students, this may not be a feasible career move.

They wouldn’t be able to pay their living costs during an unpaid internship, so many of those positions are filled by middle-class students whose families are able to help them with their expenses according to a recent article in The Guardian. Without this relevant work experience, students wouldn’t be eligible for many entry-level positions, preventing them from moving up in the profession. This inability to progress in the profession is also a reason why students have no mentors or role models to turn to.

This problem hasn’t gone unnoticed by the governing bodies in PR. The PRCA noted that ‘…our use of internships (and in particular unpaid schemes) has ingrained an inequality in the sector from the entry level and it is this particular model that needs urgent reform’.

By offering paid internships, not only does the industry gain more notoriety, they become mutually beneficial relationships. Through this, agencies gain higher retention rates by investing in employees and it helps to ensure that there is a high calibre practitioners are being recruited. The PRCA says they feel any contracted, non-voluntary work is entailed to compensation under the National Minimum Wage and currently have a campaign going to get their agencies to offer paid internships.

In the same Guardian article subconscious bias, as well, is seen as a factor in the lack of diversity. This happens more so on an entry-level basis when it is known that candidates for a position will be longer-term fixtures in an organisation. Companies may not be aware of how to be inclusive and separate from bias.

It’s easy to identify candidates that will fit into the team well without shaking up the status quo. However, they could possibly be over looking a candidate with better qualifications and skills because they appear different. Choosing candidates that ‘fit’ the team continues a cycle of what academics identify as ‘whiteness’, characterised by its promotion of white, middle-class, educated ideas, beliefs, and stereotypes as outlined by Lee Edwards in his industry report for the CIPR.

So what do we do? Who’s responsible for closing the gap; agencies, governing bodies of PR, recruiters? And when will change come for the industry?

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Brett Ashley Bridges

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