Access, Not Quotas – Let’s Make PR More Inclusive

August 2, 2016

by Max Kalu

In my short time in the professional world, I’ve found that the words “inclusion” and “diversity” often have a curious effect. In some cases they lead to furious nods of agreement, other times you see hint of panic cross people’s faces as they desperately attempt to recall their company line and HR code.

As a young person who joined the FleishmanHillard Fishburn (FHF) graduate scheme less than a year ago, it’s reassuring to hear that the PR industry is largely in a good place. Data from the PRCA shows that the UK PR industry is valued at £12.9bn – a 34% increase from its 2013 valuation of £9.62bn. Our industry is growing at an impressive rate, the sector now employs around 83,000, up from 62,000 in 2013.

As an industry we’re going from strength to strength, which makes our record on inclusion and diversity all the more disappointing.

According to the same report, the UK PR industry is currently 91% white. Not a particularly surprising number when you consider that the UK is itself 87.1% white . The issue becomes starkly obvious however, when you read that this number has hardly changed since 2011. In three years the number people employed by the UK PR industry has increased by over 21,000, but in five years there has been almost no movement on diversity.

Our record on diversity is indicative of the wider problem PR has with inclusion. A look around most agencies will reveal a workforce mainly comprised of employees from very similar socio-economic backgrounds. Recruiting talent from a range of communities isn’t just morally right, but also makes business sense. Research from McKinsey shows that diversity in the workforce can positively affect a company’s bottom line.

While not an advocate of quotas – I think they can be tokenistic and sometimes damaging — as an industry we need to address this issue. This is why initiatives like FHF’s partnership with Career Ready are vital.

The first step is letting talented young people know that regardless of their background, the PR industry will welcome them. This is the message we’re sending with our partnership with Career Ready. In inviting students into our office and showcasing what we do through masterclasses, we’re telling these young people that PR is accessible to them. In committing to individually mentoring ten students, we’re providing students with a friendly face in the professional world. In hosting Career Ready students for paid summer internships, we’re letting students try their hand at what we do and gain real life work experience.

For me, it’s never been a case of propping open the door in the name of diversity or inclusion, but giving all a fair chance to knock on the door in the first place. Six years ago I was a Career Academy student myself, and I continue to reap the benefits of the programme to this day.

Making our industry a more inclusive place starts with number of small steps, and I’m very proud to be part of an agency which made a huge one this year.

This article was originally published by PRCA on June 27, 2016.