Study on diversity & inclusion initiatives wins Arthur W. Page Center Benchmark Award

May 12, 2016

Hua Jiang and Don Stacks Denise Bortree

By Hua Jiang, Rochelle Ford and Peta Long, Syracuse University

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 36.5 percent of the U.S. population will be comprised of Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and Native Americans by 2020. Hispanics, African Americans, foreign-born individuals and people with disabilities also make up the four fastest growing groups in the U.S. workforce. Scholars and professionals across different industries have called for more studies to examine the real progress of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the recruitment and retention of talent from under-represented groups.

Funded by the PRSA Foundation and the Plank Center for Leadership, this study examined how the Arthur W. Page member organizations define D&I in recruitment and retention of public relations talent. It studied what D&I goals they have set and how the goals and related activities or practices fit into the visions/missions of the organizations. It also identified what practices organizations implement to enhance D&I and what makes best practices work. The project was awarded the Arthur W. Page Center Benchmark Study Award at the 2016 International Public Relations Research Conference. 

Participating organizations define diversity from a broad perspective including race, ethnicity, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, veteran status, language, religion, etc. They regard all these aspects of diversity as important to them in recruiting and retaining talent. Gender diversity skews heavily female and Caucasian, although leadership teams still skew male.

Racial and ethnic diversity among communication teams are lower in proportion to the U.S. population. More than 50 percent of the surveyed organizations reported dissatisfaction with current D&I within U.S. communication teams. Our follow-up interviews revealed the same finding.

Among the 78 U.S.-based corporations and agencies who responded to the survey request, 49 reported to have D&I goals. Overall, interviewees felt they have a diversity mandate to make progress, although most do not define what progress means and are hesitant to define numerical goals. Research team member Peta Long said, “Throughout our interviews, conversations consistently illustrated that where there is no quota goal there is a problem with a constructive definition.”

“We found that leadership and training are key to the accomplishment of D&I goals,” principal investigator Hua Jiang said. The top rated tactics to achieving the formal or informal D&I goals of Page member organizations include:

  • Senior leaders committed to enforcing D&I policies
  • Leaders visibly involved with diversity-related activities
  • Having a succession plan to ensure a diverse pool of qualified candidates for executive positions
  • Training designed to promote and support a culture of diversity and inclusion
  • Training to raise awareness about diversity issues and help employees work with others who are different from themselves

Unfortunately, none of the strategies are being used by the majority of survey respondents. The strategies those surveyed reported implementing with the greatest satisfaction include:

  • D&I director/champion
  • D&I mission/vision statement
  • Competency-based recruitment

Participants plan to implement all of the best practice strategies with the following being the top strategies in the planning or refinement stages:

  • Measurable D&I initiative
  • Minority executive training program
  • Budget for D&I initiative
  • Cultural/D&I audit/assessment
  • Managerial training related to diversity

Of those surveyed who dedicate some resources to D&I, workforce retention overall received the most resources when considering budget, dedicated professionals, support/administrative staff, training and other resources. Overall, members believe the resources being dedicated to D&I budget, training time, dedicated professionals and support staff are at least minimally sufficient. 

“While many organizations reported to have D&I goals, D&I measurement and accountability are the weakest areas for Page members surveyed and interviewed,” said Rochelle Ford, co-principal investigator. Close to 73 percent of surveyed organizations do not have D&I goal achievements tied to their executive compensation, which can largely compromise the accomplishment of D&I initiatives.

Two key factors that contribute to Page members’ most effective D&I-related activities include:

  • Leadership support and commitment
  • Dedicated effort focused on employee engagement 

The industrial implications of the study for leadership and for recruitment and retention of public relations talent need to be further examined in future research:

  1. Define D&I in a broader sense and actually implement D&I mandate in recruitment and retention practices. 
  2. Integrate D&I into corporate strategic thinking and planning. 
  3. Leadership support and engagement is the key to success. 
  4. Acquire, retain and develop D&I initiatives, tactics and resources. 
  5. Strong enforcement: Tie D&I accomplishments with compensation for top leadership, management and rank-and-file employees. 
  6. Listen to employees’ opinions.
  7. Assessment, assessment and assessment. Do more.

Note: The full-length paper won the Arthur W. Page Center Benchmark Study Award and Top 3 Paper of Practical Significance Award at the 2016 Annual International Public Relations Research (IPRRC) Conference. The research team thanks the Arthur W. Page Society and the Arthur W. Page Center for their enormous support.

Pictured: Hua Jiang, co-author; Don Stacks, executive director of IPRRC Board; and Denise Bortree, Page Center director