Using the ‘D’ Word: How to Promote Diversity in Your Chapter and Workplace

December 1, 2014

[courtesy of visit oakland]
[courtesy of visit oakland]

Nowadays, it seems as though everywhere you turn, the “d” word is mentioned: diversity. And more often than not, it’s referring to the lack thereof — in the workplace, in the newsroom, in schools. Diversity is an important consideration that impacts almost every profession, including public relations.

Engaging the local community

From 2010 to 2013, I had the opportunity to serve as the Diversity Chair of the PRSA San Francisco Chapter, where we were actively engaged with different community organizations. The San Francisco Bay Area is unique, with all types of people, and our challenge was to figure out how to attract and engage this diverse community.

One of my first goals was to bring together all of the local minority media and PR organizations. We assembled diversity mixers with local chapters of the Asian Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

We often had more than 10 minority organizations gathered together, representing both public relations and the media. As we met throughout the year, we forged relationships and were able to learn from one another.

Once these new relationships were established, we included members from these organizations as panelists for our monthly programs and invited them to our events. Bringing in new people with different backgrounds broadened our reach and provided different perspectives. We leveraged these new contacts to increase our membership and overall engagement.

With the success of our diversity mixers in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was time to take them to the next level. At the 2010 PRSA International Conference in Washington, D.C., we organized the first diversity mixer. I contacted the local minority PR and media organizations to attend our event. It was successful, and I’m proud to say it is now a recurring event at the PRSA conference each year. These gatherings encourage the local PR and media community in the host city to network with the conference attendees.

Showing the media

As my term as diversity chair expired, my professional life also took a big turn. I was hired for the job of a lifetime: promoting the city I love and reside in, Oakland, Calif. Visit Oakland, the tourism bureau for the city, hired me as the new director of PR and community relations.

I was able to utilize the connections I made through PRSA, bringing what I learned from the organization and the mixers into my workplace. This was reflected in our hiring practices and ensured our creation of a diverse board of directors.

As our organization worked and started to rebrand, we did more than a year of research, asking residents and visitors why they visited or lived in Oakland. The top word that came up consistently: diversity. 

Let me explain a bit about Oakland. It’s considered one of the most diverse cities in the country, but what does that really mean? In Oakland’s case, it’s not just ethnically diverse, but geographically, economically and topographically.

Given the unique makeup of the city, I am able to be creative and think broadly about how to best pitch a wide variety of story ideas to the media. This macro perspective is important, as Oakland continues to attract media coverage and garner positive attention for its diversity.

In my current role, I work with national and international press, telling and showing them the story of Oakland. Whether the reporters are from Black Enterprise, Latin Trends or GO Magazine, it’s important to show our rich culture and history, which helps them better witness our diversity firsthand.

For example, the Remember Them monument is the first representational monument in the United States that honors diversity by featuring sculptures of 25 humanitarians, including Maya Angelou, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Mother Teresa.

A visit to the city isn’t complete without a drive through Chinatown, the fourth-largest Chinatown in the country and a diverse pan-Asian area, with Chinese, Koreans and Filipinos. Questions always arise about the birthplace of the Black Panthers or Fruitvale, the largest Latino neighborhood in the city.

“Oakland is one of the few cities to host multicultural media and highlight their diversity,” says Lisa Skriloff, president of Multicultural Marketing Resources, Inc. “My visit there earlier this year was a great blend of the African-American, Hispanic and Asian communities, which make up such a diverse city.”

Regardless of where you turn, Oakland’s diversity is difficult to escape — and that’s exactly why we love it here.


Connecting the Dots

Diversity in your PRSA Chapter or in the workplace shouldn’t be an afterthought, but something that becomes second nature. Here are two ways to start:

1.  Attend and get involved in different minority organizations and conferences (e.g., the National Association of Black Journalists or the National Association of Hispanic Journalists).

2. Forge strong relationships with the ethnic chambers of commerce in your city and leverage them to help you tell your story.  — K.B.

Kim Bardakian
Kim Bardakian is the director of PR and community relations for Visit Oakland. Throughout her career, she has held a variety of PR positions at tech and consumer brands, including Pandora. Email: Twitter: @fab5era.


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