Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Not the Usual Suspects: Diversity in public relations work (August)

The following is a guest post provided by Bill Prickett, APR:
Photo by clevercupcakes via Creative Commons
The August program focused on “outsiders,” so I guess it’s appropriate that this post is written by someone from the Dallas chapter. I’ve been active in PRSA for many years, and served as the first co-chair of the Dallas Diversity Committee and was also involved in the diversity initiative with PRSA national. When I saw this topic, I knew I wanted to attend.

First, I want to report that the speaker, Jacquie Lambiase, Ph.D., was stellar, offering so much insight into a difficult and sometimes uncomfortable topic. She’s an associate professor in the strategic communication division of TCU's Schieffer School of Journalism and has co-edited and co-written two books on advertising's use of sexually oriented appeals, along with writing journal articles and books chapters on ethics, social media, and gendered images in mass media. Her content was informative and her style was casual, encouraging the interactive discussion that the audience obviously didn’t want to end.

She informed the group of her intentions to cover three basic areas on the topic of diversity: religion (specifically Islam) and disabilities, though her primary concentration would focus on gays, lesbian and transgendered in the workplace. At the very beginning, she shared that all three of these barriers would be helped by each of us adopting an attitude of hospitality—making people feel welcomed, valued and accepted.

I will attempt a brief (sigh) overview of some highlights from the presentation and discussion.

The day of the luncheon happened to be the first day of Ramadan, and it was brought out that neither of the DFW primary newspapers had carried any stories about the event or the religion. “Can you imagine Christmas without a front page story? Or Easter?” Jacquie asked the group.

On the subject of disabilities, Jacquie pointed out that most accommodations cost nothing. She said the best way to deal with people with disabilities is to “have the conversation”—talk about it and get it out in the open. Our differences keep us at a distance, but communication can bridge the gap.

When it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity, Jacquie encouraged companies to “come out of the closet” in their open, vocal support of GLBT employees. The group made numerous suggestions to help GLBT employees :
  • Provide domestic partnership benefits
  • Change the options on forms (Male and Female only; Single, Married, Divorced… Partnered?)
  • Use of offensive terminology: sexual preference, chosen lifestyle, etc.

I wish there was time and space to share all the insights I recorded in my notebook; they were helpful. (I learned the new term “Gay Vague Advertising” and how some companies are content with a casual ‘wink’ in the direction of the gay/lesbian market. That discussion was worth the price of the meal for me.) But it’s my hope that what I have shared here will give you an idea of what was discussed…and the incredible value of such programs.

As Jacquie pointed out, it’s not that we don’t need to continue our discussion on issues such as racial and gender diversity, but we must broaden our perspective and our hospitality. I applaud the Fort Worth chapter for addressing this topic in such a (pardon the pun) straight-forward and thoughtful approach.
Bill Prickett, APR works in Public Relations/Communications at Certified Payment Processing and is a Dallas PRSA chapter member.

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