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Let’s Be Real about Diversity (Or The Lack Thereof)

By Stephanie Thara

Communications Manager, Western Growers

Diversity Chair, OCPRSA

The Diversity Committee recently held its first event of the year, in conjunction with the YoPro Committee, and I have to tell you, it was a breath of fresh air.

Hearing the 20 or so students from universities throughout Orange County talk about the importance of diversity was both surprising and relieving. It’s no secret that speaking about diversity can be difficult. Even in the United States, where the conversation about inclusion is relatively advanced, people still get uncomfortable and squeamish at the mention of the word “diversity.” Maybe it’s because they want to use the most “politically correct” term when referring to a specific race and are unsure of what that is or maybe it’s because they don’t want to come off sounding intolerant. Whatever the reason is, it’s not easy for most.

Members of the 2017 Diversity Committee during the YoPro/Diversity Bowling Mixer (l to r): Stephanie Cardenas, Elia Verduzco, Stephanie Thara and Victoria Lim

So when we started speaking about what diversity meant to these future leaders of the PR industry during our “Strike Out Your Stress” Bowling Mixer yesterday, I was filled with hope. Students were expressing ideas such as the following:

“Diversity and inclusion are crucial in helping move organizations forward.”

“Better, more innovative ideas come from a diverse workforce.”

“Diversity creates more opportunity for young professionals like me.”

And these were just a few comments! I truly believe that the next generation has the power to change the narrative about diversity, and these students are well on their way to creating an easier path for diverse individuals to break into and succeed in communications and public relations.

While growing up, my dad always said “because you are a women and because you are Asian, you will have to work ten times harder to succeed.” And that’s not an exaggeration—he always said it. By the time I graduated college, it was imprinted in my brain that climbing up the corporate ladder will be especially hard because of my race and gender.

He was right.

I luckily didn’t experience many difficulties when I first started out my career, but as I progressed, the truth behind the demographics of our industry started becoming more apparent. It’s astounding to me the lack of women leadership there is in PR considering how many women are actually public relations practitioners. In the past Real Talk blog, Jim Delulio mentions how Caucasian men still dominate senior leadership positions in PR firms and corporate PR departments and Caucasian women constitute about 70% of the workforce. Insane! Beyond PR, women hold 52% of all professional-level jobs in the United States, yet only 15% are executive officers, according to the Center for American Progress.

And if you thought making it to the top ranks of leadership as white woman was hard, consider the difficulty for women of color. The AAUW recently published a study that reported Asian women represent a mere 3% of the private sector workforce and a dismal 1% of senior leadership.

This is just race and gender. What about ageism? What about people who are gay or disabled? I’ve seen, first hand, how someone’s idea has not been valued because they are “too old” or “too gay.” Unbelievable. I don’t understand why companies don’t make it more of a priority to promote inclusion within the organization or make diversity a factor when hiring employees.

The fact is that if you want to build teams capable of innovating, you need diversity. Having people from diverse backgrounds brings new perspectives to the table, enhances creativity and leads to better decision making and problem solving.

The statistics surrounding the lack of diversity in the workforce are staggering but unfortunately real. We need to change the conversation by not only putting our faith in the next generation, but spreading awareness ourselves. This year, the Diversity Committee launched a “Real Talk” Initiative where we host events and spread communications to promote understanding and comfortability with diversity. We hope that this results in action, with more people integrating a culture that encourages diversity not only in the workplace but their personal life. You can read our past Real Talk blogs, where leading communications professionals speak candidly about issues that affect diversity and inclusion in the PR profession:

•    It’s Our Time to Lead the Change – by Neil Foote, President, National Black Public Relations Society
•    Inspiring a Conversation about Leadership – by Erik Fallis, APR, Director of Executive Writing and Speechwriter, The California State University
•    Does O’Reilly Factor into Diversity in PR? – by Jim Delulio, President, PR Talent

We post Real Talk blogs monthly so be sure to check them out. Don’t forget to save the date our annual Diversity Luncheon on Thursday, November 9. You won’t want to miss our all-star panel.

Stephanie Thara is Communications Manager at Western Growers and currently serves as Diversity Chair for OCPRSA. She is also involved the Long Beach Junior Chamber, where she served as the organization’s first Asian American president and the eighth female president since its inception in 1932. You can follow her on Twitter: @stephthara.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog is part of the Diversity Committee’s “Real Talk” Initiative.

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