Diversity & Inclusion Takes Center Stage at PRSA


Besides serving as committee chair of this week’s 2016 PRSA International Conference, I was honored to open Monday’s luncheon session focusing on diversity and inclusion led by Torod Neptune, President of the PRSA Foundation, and Mike Fernandez, chair of global corporate and financial practice of Burson-Marsteller.

Recognizing the need to increase diversity in our profession, every major PR organization in the U.S. is actively engaged in D&I programs, many working together to create genuine forward motion on several fronts. Torod discussed the Foundation’s D&I efforts, which got a significant boost from a $500,000 commitment from the PRSA board to support innovative programs and scholarships.

Underscoring the importance of these initiatives, Mike Fernandez got a well-deserved standing ovation for his passionate business case for diversity and inclusion. PRSA’s editorial assistant Renée Ruggeri summarizes Mike’s important remarks and proposed action steps in this recap in PR Tactics:

In his speech titled, “Diversity Requires a Bias for Action,” which he gave at yesterday’s Networking Lunch during the 2016 PRSA International Conference, Fernandez discussed his upbringing as the child of a Hispanic father and White mother, who “faced many an indignity” growing up in California.

Despite going against the recommendation of a high school guidance counselor, who urged him to go to a junior college and then on to state school –– “as many Latinos and people of color do,” –– Fernandez went on to graduate from Georgetown University and serve as CCO for five of America’s largest companies. “It seemed to me that my guidance counselor was selling me short…on account of where he thought a young man with a ‘Z’ at the end of his name belonged,” Fernandez said.

Moving beyond theory

“Our diversity challenge in the PR profession needs to move beyond the theory, and all the studies and our best intentions. It needs to be about our practice –– or our very practice as PR professionals will suffer,” Fernandez said. He explained how he turned down various opportunities early in his career in areas such as diversity recruiting and multicultural marketing and public relations. “I wanted to advance my career, but I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed.”

“Diversity is not easy,” Fernandez added. “If it were easy, America’s smartest people –– entrepreneurs, engineers and computer scientists in Silicon Valley –– would have figured this all out, and would not be struggling to recruit and retain minority and female talent the way they are.”

About 6.5 percent of PR leaders are represented by ethnic and racial minorities, despite the same groups accounting for nearly 35 percent of the U.S. population. At that rate, it will take more than 30 years for the two to mirror each other.

“It is not just what we say, it is how we say it, and what we do through our actions that matter,” Fernandez said. “How we answer the phone, how we greet people in public, whether we make people feel comfortable or stressed, and how we treat people through a broad array of non-verbal cues, all of it communicates. “We need to be both intentional and, at the same time, better understand that our actions may be undercutting our intent.” Fernandez offered two lists, one for diverse professionals and one for leaders, on how to improve diversity:

For diverse professionals:

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