Have you ever criticized a person or a company for their diversity efforts (or the lack thereof)? Possibly your own?
If the answer is yes, I have one more question for you: What did you do after that? What did you do to not only express your concerns but also help address them?
One blog I enjoy checking in on from time to time is Ad Age’s Big Tent, the blog where “diversity and multicultural marketing issues are uncovered and discussed by the people who work on the front lines.”
I enjoy reading the Big Tent because it shows the thoughts of our industry siblings, marketing and advertising, on a serious issue which also affects us as public relations professionals. It seems as if they have been around the block a few more times than we have, and I think we can learn a lot from them (both what to do and what not to do) when it comes to addressing diversity.
I do, however, have an issue with the comments I see on a regular basis. Big Tent readers seem to be very critical of the industry and member companies without sharing many perspectives on how to move forward (actual steps for taking action).
Are we, public relations professionals, guilty of the same thing?
Ad Age blogger Ken Wheaton published a post at the end of June titled “Getting Them While They’re Really Young.” In the post, Wheaton profiled the end product of a 13 week program which involved creative and production staffers from McCann, New York. In conjunction with a non-profit called Citizen Schools, the staffers worked with students from East Harlem’s Isaac Newton Middle School to create advertising spots focused on fighting childhood obesity.
I have a few thoughts on the content of the videos, but I still gave the program a check for taking a step in the right direction: providing professional exposure and some brief skills training. One issue that I have with a good deal of youth programs is that they tend to aim too low in age and are not as intensive and/or long-term as they may need to be. That said, I still gave this a check.
Now for the comments:
“Yes, reaching the minority youth that they know they won’t hire when they come of age! Brilliant strategy! Exposing someone to a racist industry that won’t even consider hiring them makes no sense. They’ve been doing these outreaches for the past 30 years! It hasn’t worked. No more excuses, stop the lies. The problem isn’t the youth. It’s the agencies who don’t want them inside their agency walls. Anybody can do a youth outreach program. This doesn’t address the heart of the matter.”
So, what happens in about fifteen years or so when these minority kids go into an agency with their books, a little moxie and all the necessary training and education that might make them suitable candidates for an open position within the advertising industry?
Will they be:
A.) Hired? We’re all about merit in advertising. If you’ve done the legwork, the grunt work and are ready to do the hard work, you’ll get the gig. Even if you’re black.
B.) The poor bastards will have a dumbstruck white male associate creative director wearing the mandatory mustard-stained t-shirt and Levi’s meet them at the reception desk, gawk at said minority applicant like something is growing from his/her forehead and every so gently review their work in complete and utter amazement that someone so brown could do anything so ‘professional’. After which, the minority applicant will be complimented on how ‘articulate’ and ‘presentable’ they are.And never called back again.Ever.
Take your time folks. This is a hard one.
Full Disclosure: Not all of the comments took this tone, but these were the most troubling to me.
Is this just frustration at a given moment? Years of anger coming out? A snapshot of a diversity supporter weary from the fight?
Whatever these comments represent, I pray that we never get to the point where we have to adopt this type of mindset.
I hope that we can be honest with ourselves and our leaders about our views on diversity in a way that will both be well-received and well-understood.
I hope that for every program or initiative that we criticize, we also offer steps toward a potential solution and assistance along the way.
I hope that we will make a commitment to stay, a commitment to practice, a commitment to mentor and a commitment to do better when our time comes.
Submitted by James S. Walker. James is an online public relations professional who shares his thoughts about communications, social media and diversity at PR Prescriptions. James works full-time at a global communications firm in Washington, D.C. and specializes in the development and execution of social media and online communications strategies.
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