chapter  5
15 Pages

Diversity in public relations

ByLee Edwards

The way that diversity is understood and experienced in PR is important because, as argued in the previous chapters, PR produces discourses that help constitute and sustain the relative positions of different groups in society as well as within the profession itself. How practitioners understand the value of different groups to society and to their clients will be reflected in the importance they attach to them in their work, producing hierarchical structures that characterise the profession and reflect wider social norms (Bourdieu, 1991; Jaeger, 2001). In both contexts, the lower a group is in the hierarchy, the more difficult it is for them to make their voices heard. In the context of a socio-cultural approach to PR, then, understanding diversity is crucial. The issue of diversity in public relations is a stage on which the struggles between

functional and socio-cultural understandings of practice and theory are played out. The way in which the profession ‘manages diversity’ clashes both discursively and materially with the lived experiences of PR professionals from backgrounds that are in some way different from the professional norm. While the functional view of diversity presents an idealised version of the benefits it can offer to the profession, the lived experience reveals the messiness of life as the ‘other’ practitioner, constantly negotiated in terms of the parameters set by professional elites. This chapter explores these dynamics, drawing on post-colonial and critical race

theory (CRT), to give voice to those who are otherwise silenced in mainstream

discourse. In accordance with post-colonial theory, I use the term ‘other’ and ‘othering’ to describe individuals and groups who are made to feel different in some way from the social, professional and Western-oriented norm that characterises public relations (Said, 1995; Byerly, 2007). This chapter focuses on ethnicity, rather than ‘race’. While both terms are poten-

tially problematic and risk reifying categorisations that are socially constructed, they are useful in their representational and material effects (Maynard, 1995). ‘Race’ tends to be used to create boundaries for a particular group with reference to biological characteristics, while ethnicity incorporates a wider range of assumptions of ‘difference’ in culture, language, embodiment, economic and social capital (Anthias, 1990, 2001). In the context of this discussion, it is assumptions about ethnicity (which includes ‘race’) that emerge as the most important factor in the analysis. Consequently, I use the term ethnicity in this chapter, except where referring to others’ work. I begin by outlining the range of discourses about diversity in PR scholarship.

I then reflect on these in the context of practice by exploring concepts of diversity in professional texts and contrasting these with narratives from ‘other’ PR professionals in the UK, taken from a recent study1 of their experiences. I conclude by considering the patterns that are revealed through the comparative analysis, and their implications for research and practice.