Public Relations Diversity Hinges on Leadership

PR Diversity & Inclusion: The Common Denominator is Leadership

A recent literature review by Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan, a board member of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at The University of Alabama, showcases diversity and inclusion trends in the PR industry throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

While some progress has been made in terms of recruitment of minorities and advancement of women to more senior executive positions, very little has changed since the 1990s.

“Only about 10 percent of the PR workforce is racially and ethnically diverse,” said Bardhan, a professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. “Studies and projections indicate that the population segments currently considered to be minorities will constitute a slim majority in the next few decades.”

The theme repeated in the trade press and academic research is that top leadership needs to care and get personally involved in D&I. More efforts need to be made to diversify top leadership. Without a change in the D&I realm, the PR profession will fall behind other sectors, and its lack of diversity will be increasingly questioned.

“Leaders set the tone for diversity and inclusion,” said Bardhan. “In particular, PR Leaders need to do a better job of being involved, accountable and focused on creating inclusive cultures.”

Additional key findings from Bardhan’s review include:

  • Diversity needs to be a part of organizational culture rather than an add-on, and accountability is needed for D&I initiatives.
  • Millennials have different expectations regarding D&I. They expect diversity and inclusion.
  • PR agencies and corporations need to set clear and measurable D&I goals and systematically measure the outcomes.
  • More best practices examples are needed from those organizations that have made successful strides in D&I.
  • D&I enhances innovation and increases productivity.

Despite slow change, the good news, according to the review, is that there is now a much greater understanding in the industry that major D&I changes are urgently needed. It is the “how” part that is the main struggle. PR leaders must engage with this struggle and lead the way on effective D&I initiatives.

The complete review can be found at

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


Jessika White, 205/348-7250,


Rand Nelson, 205/348-6416,

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.