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The Future of PR Looks Like Us campaign

This blog is part of a series called The Future of PR Looks Like Us, a meaningful campaign led by a team of Centennial College public relations and corporate communications postgraduate students in partnership with the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms (CCPRF). Our goal is to highlight the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the public relations (PR) industry.

This blog accompanies a podcast series exploring the diverse voices that have shaped the industry and featuring work done by PR students from Centennial College. Learn about diverse figures of PR’s past that have shaped the industry for BIPOC professionals today. Listen in to uncover misconceptions and gain a sense of the opportunities the industry holds. The series closes by emphasizing the bright future PR professionals and students see for the growing diversity within the industry.

 

Graduating students are encouraged as we look at opportunities in the public relations and corporate communications industry.  We had a conversation with students, professionals and educators who gave us some great insights on diversity, equity and inclusion.

  • Judy Lewis (chair of CCPRF and co-founder and partner of Strategic Objectives),
  • Michelle Nguyen (co-founder, lead writer and social strategist of Super Duper Studios),
  • Ananya Mani (senior internal communications specialist of Ingram Micro),
  • Gabriel Bedard (human rights and equity advisor and GCE instructor and facilitator at Centennial College),
  • and Jerome Kitenge (a current student of the Centennial College Bachelor of Public Relations program).

Here’s what these individuals shared with us:

 

Opportunities for women and men

When it comes to representation, acceptance and inclusivity, Judy Lewis emphasizes that we must create a welcoming and accepting culture for women to feel confident in executive roles while they balance career and life.

As much as entrepreneurship is encouraged, it is still important for women to know they have a place in executive roles in the industry. Building supportive environments could help to improve the representation of women in leadership.

Michelle suggests that everyone, especially women, share their wins and losses with transparency and honesty. Women in leadership roles are often described as powerful, successful and strong. This can inspire and motivate junior communicators like us. However, it is important to understand there are challenges and struggles that come along with these wins. Michelle and Judy both suggest that breaking down stereotypes and viewing women in a different light may help create a more supportive culture.

Regarding men, we have a responsibility to create an accepting and diverse culture for them too. They often look for ways to fit in a workplace setting where they are outnumbered by women. Students and young men entering the industry may see the advantage of men in senior roles, but very few are men of colour and that is something else that has to change if we want to have balance.

Jerome indicated that he sees a change happening for the better, and acknowledges that it has to change. As a student, he feels encouraged that there is a place for him too. He sees opportunities for communicators to bring their skills and experiences, support each other, and encourage a more inclusive culture, stating that it will only enhance the industry.

 

Hiring and mentorship

With all the recent social movements, organizations are stepping up even more and welcoming candidates with diverse backgrounds. It is still important for recruiters to consider the skills of applicants as they balance the organizational needs. Michelle mentioned the role of managers and employers who can work to make room for juniors as they bring new thoughts and perspectives to the table.

Schools are also preparing students for the workforce, and Gabriel encourages them to share the valuable GCE training they’ve acquired. Judy supports this in saying how schools can help students prepare for interviews so they can speak to their skills, project their confidence and go into it visibly showing their passion for storytelling and our industry.

Networking and building relationships are both important to furthering your career and broadening your perspectives. There are a number of ways that can be done. As someone who graduated in the last few years, Ananya has great advice for emerging students and PR professionals. “Pay it forward.” Bring your unique skills and find opportunities to mentor others.  Reverse mentoring has value too. It empowers emerging leaders, keeps us sharp and shows that junior communicators have a lot to offer. As they learn, they can teach even those in executive positions. Be confident and know that you have a lot to offer.

 

Acceptance and diversity in PR

There is room for growth, knowledge and acceptance in PR. We see how it is changing for the better, and as communicators and storytellers, we have to do a better job of talking about this exciting and valuable industry. It is important for people to know that it is made up of diverse professionals working with diverse clients.

Gabriel proposes that we build awareness of our ingrained biases. We need to create safe spaces for everyone, and he stresses that some students are faced with microaggressions when they enter the workplace, so it’s very important that we pay attention to the work culture and address the necessary changes to make it more welcoming.

Students today are leaving school with more knowledge and better understanding about DE&I, some demanding that workplaces act in ways that reflect their own values. Gabriel encourages students to ask sensitive but extremely important questions about equity and inclusion when interviewing. Ask about the company's initiatives and commitment and ensure this is a safe and healthy environment for you to grow.

“Our words and actions matter,” Judy said, and Strategic Objectives is proving its commitment to diversity and inclusion by partnering with suppliers and organizations that align with their values, even cutting ties with those that don’t. SO not only walks the walk, but talks the talk. The company also created SOAR (Strategic Objectives Alliance and Representation), an employee driven committee that curates resources. That’s the kind of company students may want to work for when entering the world of PR.

 

Sharing your voice

The conversation with these diverse professionals and students help us to create a narrative for our stories. Open communication means sharing your voice. It also means listening. As communicators, we share our thoughts and experiences, but we must also listen to others to help expand our knowledge and perspectives. Jerome emphasizes that we are all so unique and that everyone should be given the platform to share their authentic voices. “We all have something to say.” It’s about learning how to find confidence, project our voices and show our true passion for the industry.

 

Conclusion

The future of PR looks like us: students, emerging professionals and seasoned communicators that want to change the narrative. We want to put the focus on the growth the public relations industry is showing, and we want other students to know there is a place for them. Let’s start by paying it forward. There are so many stories to be told.