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The University of Alabama

UA’s Plank Center Co-Sponsors Study on Diversity in PR Firms

While members of a leading association of public relations professionals remain dissatisfied with the level of diversity and inclusion on their communication teams, few are being held accountable for developing and implementing strategies to improve. This is the key finding of a recent study conducted by Syracuse University and funded and released by the PRSA Foundation and the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at The University of Alabama.

“The survey and study found that all of the respondents have begun some programs to effect change, but those strategies tend to lack accountability for progress, have little measurement tied to them and therefore result in slow movement in achieving the corporate diversity and inclusion goals,” says Dr. Hua Jiang, lead researcher and assistant professor in the SI Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse.

About 64 percent of Arthur W. Page Society member respondents reported that their CEO and other C-Suite executives place a very high level of importance on diversity and inclusion; however, 72 percent do not have diversity and inclusion goal achievement tied to their executive compensation. Likewise, slightly more than half (58 percent) of all respondents said their communication senior leadership teams placed a very high level of importance on diversity and inclusion. Despite that, 86 percent of respondents do not tie D&I goal achievement to their leadership team’s compensation either.

Further, only 40 percent of Page member respondents claimed that they have integrated a comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategy very well or completely well into their overall business strategy.

“If, as an industry, we are to meaningfully impact the issue of diversifying our organizations, public relations leaders must combine our public advocacy of diversity and inclusion with clear and measurable accountability for achieving those objectives,” said Torod B. Neptune, president of the PRSA Foundation and corporate vice president, corporate communications at Verizon Communications Inc.

The majority of the Page Society members surveyed do have diversity and inclusion goals and objectives, and those fit well into their companies’ corporate character and missions. Those Page member organizations that seem to be making the most traction in achieving their goals have strong leadership support and commitment.

According to the study, the most effective best practices identified are:

  1. Leadership support of proactive recruitment strategies with ethnically diverse universities and professional associations,
  2. Having a dedicated effort focused on employee engagement, using grass-roots, corporate funded affinity and employee resource groups, and,
  3. Two-directional reaffirmation of skills and abilities to help with retention of talent.

“The findings of this study are aimed at helping public relations leaders build upon best-practices in our field as well as in other industries,” said Dr. Karla Gower, executive director of UA’s Plank Center. “We recognize that some industries might be ahead of our field in effecting change in this space,” she said.

In addition to the summary of this report found at http://plankcenter.ua.edu, an academic research paper, which won the Institute of Public Relations Research Significance Award and the Page Center at Penn State’s Benchmark Award, will be available on the International Interdisciplinary Public Relations Research Conference website.

The PRSA Foundation, the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, Syracuse University and the Arthur W. Page Society gave financial and in-kind support to complete this study.

About the PRSA Foundation 

The PRSA Foundation, an independent, 501(c)(3) charity, focused on increasing diversity in PR by working to attract students to the industry and make them better prepared to contribute to the profession, and to society, when they enter the workforce. The Foundation also partners with leading universities and professional organizations while working with employers, in the public and private sector, to increase retention of diverse practitioners. For more information regarding the PRSA Foundation, its activities and its full board of trustees, visit www.prsafoundation.org.

About the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations

In 2005, The University of Alabama Board of Trustees established The Plank Center. Named for public relations leader and UA alumna, the late Betsy Plank, the Center develops and recognizes outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors to advance ethical public relations in an evolving, global society through a variety of initiatives.

In addition to national leaders in the practice and education, the Center’s Board includes an ex officio position for the president of the Public Relations Student Society of America that represents more than 11,000 members in 300-plus colleges and universities.

The Center is housed in UA’s department of advertising and public relations, a division of the College of Communication and Information Sciences. UA’s public relations program, with nearly 1,400 students, is the largest undergraduate degree program within the College. The program is certified by the Public Relations Society of America.

More information about the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations can be found at www.plankcenter.ua.edu.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

  • CONTACT: Hailey Grace Steele, communication specialist, hgsteele@ua.edu, 205/348-6416
  • SOURCE: Jessika White, communication specialist, jnwhite@apr.ua.edu, 205/348-7250