The firing of Fox commentator, Bill O’Reilly is more the result of the economic impact of his actions than any real moral outrage on the part of Fox News. When angry consumers, amplified by social media started pressuring advertisers, ad dollars left the show and Mr. O’Reilly soon followed. Will this be the way diversity finally occurs in the public relations industry? More on that later.
I’ve been in the PR industry for the last 36 years. My first 17 years working on the agency side and my last 19 as a recruiter. During that time I have seen little progress in making the PR industry more diverse.
I have however seen tons of lip service given to studies, white papers, panel discussions, and strategic plans about how to develop a more diverse workforce. I have seen scholarships created, articles written, and industry associations preach the benefits of diversifying.
Organizations can talk about how important diversity is to them; how critical it is for them to mirror their diverse customer base; and how a melting pot of communications talent brings about more creative and better targeted strategic thinking, but they’re not walking the talk. They’re not hiring – or even asking to interview diverse candidates. It’s not happening on the ground, in the real world.
Caucasian men still dominate senior leadership positions in PR firms and corporate PR departments and Caucasian women constitute about 70% of the workforce (lack of women in leadership positions is yet another issue). While only 10% of the PR industry is racially and ethnically diverse, the U.S. Census Bureau, says that by 2020, 36.5% of the country’s population will consist of Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians and Native Americans. After more than two decades of discussion, planning and hand-wringing, a PR workforce that is only 10% diverse is truly a weak result from an industry that prides itself on strategic action plans that generate results. And the country’s changing demographics will make this an even bigger issue in the very near future. That light we see in the tunnel is not some amazing new committee action plan that will magically increase diversity in the workplace, it’s an approaching train in the form of Millennials.
Millennials already make up 33% of the workforce and that percentage is growing fast. Millennials and Generation Z, following right behind them, expect diversity in the workplace and diversity from their brands. And with social media as part of their DNA, they will easily amplify their voice and power, demanding that companies, agencies, and their brands reflect their embrace of diversity.
So, why haven’t all of the chatter, committees, research and initiatives created results. Because as much as senior management says they care about diversity in the workforce, they aren’t financially incentivized to do anything about it.
A 2016 study of diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices of senior public relations executives found that while 62.8% of these executives had set D&I goals, there was very little measurement and accountability. And while many surveyed reported that their CEO and other C-suite executives place a high level of importance on diversity and inclusion, 72.2 percent of them do not have their executive compensation tied to achieving these goals.
Ahh…. money talks. BS walks.
So if there is no financial incentive, when does this get real for agencies and companies? Only when consumers pressure brands, and brands in turn pressure their marketing teams and agencies. Millennials and coming generations will bring that pressure and bring it soon. And marketers better be ready to respond in kind or they will lose their budgets to other more progressive firms boasting teams that truly reflect society. Wouldn’t it be great if this model of value-based consumer pressure that forces marketers to change is one of the “factors” that we take away from Mr. O’Reilly’s firing?