Power and diversity

Treating diversity in PR as an exercise in democracy would help address imbalances in power – and make the profession less homogenous.


Why isn’t public relations more diverse? After all, the lack of diversity in the field has been a focus for research for over two decades, while practitioners and professional associations have been prompted by legislative and social change to consider how they might open up their doors to people from a wider set of backgrounds and treat them equitably once they are included.

Or perhaps not. Statistics show that measures to improve the number of ‘diverse’ practitioners in public relations have their limits. For example, the PR Census 2013 showed that black, Asian and other minority ethnic practitioners still only comprise seven per cent of the UK’s industry, a significant under-representation given that the majority of the public relations industry there is located in London, where 40 per cent of the population is from non-white ethnic minority communities. Nor is there universal agreement on the business case for diversity: in the latest State of the Profession report by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), two-thirds of practitioners agree that campaigns are more effective if the public relations team has a representative make up of people from different social backgrounds, ages and cultures. But only half agree when it comes to people from different ethnic backgrounds and the proportion drops to one-third when it comes to including people with disabilities. Informal and formal class distinctions remain a defining characteristic of the occupation, and while women dominate the occupation overall, men are still paid more and reach disproportionately higher levels of seniority. In other words, public relations is still very much an ethnically stratified industry, marked by gender and class distinctions that tend to favour men and members of the middle and upper classes. Consequently, practitioners from diverse backgrounds remain ‘outsiders-within’ the occupation, the exception rather than the rule.

Lee Edwards

Dr Lee Edwards is associate professor in communication and public relations at the University of Leeds, UK. She teaches and researches public relations from a socio-cultural perspective. She has published work on the exercise of power in and through public relations, and on diversity in public relations. She is the author of Power, Diversity and Public Relations (Routledge, 2014). She is editor, with Dr Caroline Hodges, of Public Relations, Society and Culture: Theoretical and Empirical Explorations (Routledge 2011). Lee is the secretary of the International Communication Association PR Division (2014-16).