The profession’s 2012 diversity outlook

January 3, 2012

Natalie T. J. Tindall, Ph.D., is the 2012 PRSA diversity committee chair. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Here, she shares insights about diversity regarding the PR profession, the classroom and the year ahead.

Talk about the growth of multicultural communications in recent years.

More agencies and corporations understand the need for multicultural communications. Diversity isn’t about the “free to be you and me” experience. Multicultural communication efforts have been prompted because of business and the almighty dollar.  The growth is not due to legalism and a need to feel good — it is attributed to the balance sheet and revenues. Cash rules everything about us, and corporations have taken notice to that fact and accounted for that in their communication efforts.  Who is buying and who isn’t?  Which segments are growing or shrinking?

What does diversity mean to you?

Diversity is more than the big three that people have used for years: race, ethnicity and gender. I think of diversity as invisible and visible identities.  Visible identities are the social identities that others can see — the things that can be observed such as race, gender expression, age — and invisible are the more subtle identities that are not always visible — the things that are under the surface.  These can include being LGBT or having veteran status, work roles, socioeconomic status or learning disabilities. Reclassifying how we look at diversity shifts the discussion toward inclusion and moves us from what [diversity thought leader] Dr. Roosevelt Thomas called  “affirmative action to affirming diversity.”

What are some best practices for encouraging diversity in the classroom and also being an inclusive teacher?

The changing demographics of the United States demonstrate the need for public relations to become a diverse profession that understands and practices multicultural, multiethnic and diversity communication, not as outliers or subspecialties but as a fully integrated part of every campaign.  Diversity must become a part of the everyday practice.

It’s not viable to have a “diversity” day stuck in the lecture.  You would not segregate discussions on research or ethics into one-day, be-all-end-all discussions; rather, you weave those elements throughout the entire course.  That should be the same for diversity.

What do the Census 2010 results mean for PR practitioners?

The Census validated what many demographers and researchers predicted: The face of the United States is changing. Not only are minorities now the majority in some U.S. cities, but Hispanics are now the second-largest racioethnic group and more people are identifying with more than one group.

The implications for the demographic shift require that practitioners dig deeper into the data to have a firm grasp on who they are talking to.  All racial and ethnic minority groups can’t be painted with a massive brushstroke. It is important to acknowledge the difference and respond with communication strategies that are specifically tailored and targeted to those groups.  That is basic public segmentation, but it is still common to see messages that are meant to hit everyone.

What are you looking forward to most as the chair of the PRSA diversity committee?

I am looking forward to building on the work that the past chairs have started. The PRSA diversity committee’s goals for 2012 are to provide value to members, focus on building connections with Chapter diversity leaders and working with PRSSA.

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


Angela Burrell says:

The term "affirming diversity" is a more modern approach that people should adopt when discussing what it means to practice diversity and inclusion. If we don't begin integrating the beliefs that differences are good to have, we will fail to capitalize on one of the greatest attributes of our country and that is multi-culturalism. Only by fully embracing our multi-cultural society and preparing our next generation for the future can America effectively compete on a global level.

Jan. 27, 2012

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