Archive for January, 2015

PR, Tech and Diversity


Like most good ideas, this post on PR, tech and diversity began with a convergence of events: first, was seemingly back-to-back articles in New York magazine and The Atlantic expounding, as many have done before, on the stereotyping and reality of PR as an industry comprised principally of underpaid women; second, was the growing attention to and release of the startling statistics on diversity in the tech industry—most notably, the virtual absence of African-Americans and Latinos and limited progress of women in what is arguably one of the nation’s most dominant industries; third, coinciding with these other events, was securing a long-sought opportunity to take a deep dive into the tech world, this time as a temporary contractor for a PR software firm. All of these have been instructive in revealing some truths about the PR and tech industries and the issue of diversity.

First, let us say that we’re PR veterans. We know the industry, we love the industry, and we’ve evolved with it over a period approaching some 30 years. We began doing what’s now known as traditional public relations, morphed into corporate communications and then integrated marketing communications. Now we’re adherents of PR 2.0 and emerging PR 3.0—which, to us, means cross-platform marketing, storytelling content development, and a whole array of nontraditional techniques and tools. In each phase, we’ve been in a position to experience the lack of diversity in each industry—particularly as it relates to agency public relations.

Thankfully, during those 30 years we’ve seen some growth and improvement in numbers and the status of individuals. Yet, as many industries overall have experienced significant progress in diversity, these two industries seem to lag. What to do?

The Diversity Problem in PR and Tech

Well, first we need to define the problem. Much has been written on this issue over the years—particularly in tech—where it’s been hard to miss the spotlight that’s been focused during recent months. For PR, as in the advertising industry and even journalism before it, it’s been a troubling issue for some time.diverse tech workers

Without turning this post into a treatise, comparative stats show:

►  In 1991, 22 percent of US workers were minorities; yet only 7 percent of the 150,00 people employed in public relations were of a minority group 1

►By 2010, PRSA’s census of practitioners (via its professional membership) showed that 14 percent of the membership self-identified as Hispanic, Black or African American, or Asian or Asian American—with that percentage doubling since 2005. 2

►As late as October, 2014, none other than Lou Capozzi, President of the PR Foundation noted that “African-American and Hispanic Americans make up only about 10 percent of all public relations professionals, while they’re 30 percent of the American population overall.”

Similarly, when stats from the tech industry were released by various companies last year, the findings revealed:

►USA Today reported that one percent of Google’s tech staff are African-American, while two percent are Hispanic. Yet, these groups comprise 12 percent and 16 percent, respectively, of the total population. Yet Asians, who comprise 12 percent of the US population, represent 34 percent of the company’s tech workers. Similarly 83 percent of Google’s tech workers internationally are reported to be male. When non-tech positions are included, male workers still dominate, at 52 percent.

►In August, a Tech Times story described Apple’s workforce as composed of 70 percent men, 30 percent women. It also described the ethnic make-up as 55 percent White, 15 percent Asian, 11 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Black, 2 percent Mixed Race, and 9 percent undeclared. *These figures were said to include employees of their retail stores.

*Fortune magazine offers the most extensive review of tech companies and diversity:

What to Do?

One of the first things the PR and tech industries have to do is let go of the canard that

qualified ______ (take your pick—African-Americans, Latinos, women, and any other under-represented sector, including age and color) are hard to find.

From our experience, truth be told, there’s a person of color that can match the qualifications of many already employed in tech and agency PR; it’s simply that too frequently they’re denied the opportunity: they’re not recruited, they didn’t attend the “right” school, they don’t know the “right” people, they don’t live in the “right” place, the list goes on.

diverse hands  End the Mythology

It’s past time to kill the myth that every White and/or Asian male (the dominant groups leading—or in the case of tech, employed in these industries) is infinitely qualified. This is especially true in tech, where the illusion promulgated is that every employee is a Stanford or MIT engineering grad, or at least a high achiever from some elite liberal arts school. Like nearly every other industry we’ve seen—and perhaps most industries—PR agencies and tech are largely peopled with ordinary foot soldiers, and among them, there’s an unfair share of nepotism, cronyism, and worse yet, incompetence. It’s often simply a question of who enjoys the “privilege” of getting paid to be “average” or a “slacker.”

An Issue of Culture, Not Always Competence

What keeps the PR and tech industries meticulously lacking in diversity is too often culture, not a question of qualifications or competence. These industries are self-perpetuating because there’s a prevailing culture within them where key leaders feel comfortable with the status quo. A recent essay in the New York Times titled “A Paradox of Integration,” observed that integration rarely happens without growing pains. As a respondent in the essay noted:

People are fine with racial difference as long as there’s no culture conflict.

The public relations and tech industries seem to be reluctant, if not averse, to suffer the growing pains of diversity toward a larger social good.

Yes, things are changing and leaders in both of these industries are loudly (in the case of the PR industry, still) proclaiming their commitment to do better. Leaders in each industry have announced significant diversity and inclusion initiatives, and some, e.g., PRSA, the PR Council, Edelman PR firm and Intel, among others, have committed real resources to inclusion and diversifying workplaces.

Yet we can’t help but find it ironic that two industries known for disruption seem to be among the most timid about the “disruption” that accompanies true social, cultural and racial integration. If there’s going to be real change, we think we’ll need to keep prodding them along!

What’s your experience with diversity in tech or PR? We’d love to hear from you.


  1. From a study by Williams, as quoted in Women in Public Relations: How Gender Influences Practice, Larissa A. Grunig, ‎Linda Childers Hon, ‎Elizabeth L. Toth.
  1. Diversity in the PR field: Some progress, though challenges persist, Natalie Tindall, PR Daily, February 7, 2012

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