Championing Diversity and Inclusion to Recruit and Retain Top Talent


Results of a study, sponsored by The Plank Center and the Institute for Public Relations, suggest that more than 70 percent of surveyed millennial public relations professionals value diversity of people at work. In addition, more than 60 percent of them indicated they are very supportive of social causes and socially responsible companies. Results also suggest when companies are more engaged in developing socially responsible strategies and programs, their millennial PR professionals tend to be more engaged in their job and their organization.

To address millennial PR professionals’ needs and expectations for generating a positive impact on the community and society, this presentation examines cutting-edge survey data for insights about how diversity and inclusion initiatives help to recruit and retain millennial workers in PR; interpret surveys about diversity and inclusion tactics that illustrate simple ways to engage millennial employees; and shares case studies of best practices in diversity and inclusion as developed by global PR agency Burson-Marsteller and others.

Panelists include: Drs. Juan Meng and Bryan Reber, The University of Georgia, and Pat Ford, The University of Florida and formerly Burson-Marsteller.

Access: Slide Presentation

JESSIKA WHITE: Hello, everyone. My name is Jessika White, and I serve as the Communications Specialist for The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Today, we’ll be talking about championing diversity and inclusion to recruit and retain top talent. This presentation was presented at the 2017 PRSA Conference, and we’re here to share it with you guys, because it’s so wonderful and very important to the industry. I’ll turn it over to the panelists so they can introduce themselves, and then we’ll get started.

JUAN MENG: Hi, everyone. I’m Juan Meng from The University of Georgia and I teach public relations at The University of Georgia, and I also conduct PR research.

BRYAN REBER: Hi, my name is Bryan Reber. I’m the Head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Georgia, and I’m glad to be a part of this panel.

PATRICK FORD: My name is Patrick Ford. I am in two capacities. I am a Professional in Residence at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, and I am Vice Chair of Burson-Marsteller, a worldwide public relations and communications firm.

JUAN MENG: OK, good morning, everyone, again. So, before we start our discussion, I’d like to briefly share the objectives of our presentation with you. Through this presentation, we’d like to share insights about how diversity and inclusion initiatives help to recruit and retain millennial professionals in public relations. We also would like to link our research findings to diversity and inclusion tactics that can be used to engage millennial employees in the workplace. And finally, we’d like to share some case studies with you of the best practices in diversity and inclusion, as developed by college education programs and also by global PR agencies, such as Burson-Marsteller.

So first of all, I’d like to begin our presentation by sharing some research findings regarding millennial communication professionals and their perceptions, as well as expectations on recruitment and retention. This research project is called Millennial Communication Professionals in the Workplace, and it was sponsored by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and also the Institute of Public Relations. The first question is, who are the millennial communication professionals? We know millennials are the largest generation in the workforce– about 35% back to 2015 data. And they will be leaders in the workplace for the next two to three decades.

There are many studies have focused on millennials, and I highlighted the generational differences– quality, values, lifestyles, so on and so forth. In our study, we focused exclusively on those adult millennials– those who were born between 1981 and 1996 and are currently holding a full-time position in the profession of communications. And we define them as millennial communication professionals in our study.

So, we conducted an online survey of the national panel of 420 millennials in 2016. Some basic demographics are indicated here on this slide. The millennial communication professionals are within the age range of 21 to 36 and are currently working in the profession of communication.

The MCPs were about 53% female and 75% Caucasian. The majority of them worked in public and private corporations, and about 20% of them worked in communication agencies. And their top job responsibilities include general communications, social media, digital communications, and marketing communications. So, in this study, we asked the millennial communications professionals self-perceptions on their workplace values and attributes, job engagement, leadership capability, leadership development, organizations’ recruitment and retention drivers, and also their expectations on career with an outcome, based on all the efforts that organizations have been made to develop them to be future leaders.

And also, in order to find out the perceptual gaps, we conducted a twin survey of 420 managers, who supervised and managed millennial communication professionals in their organizations. In this survey, we focused on collecting managers’ assessment of millennials in many of the same areas we asked before, such as workplace values, engagement in the job and also in the organization, leadership development and leadership capabilities, recruitment and retention drivers from the managers’ perspective. Like previous studies, we found many significant differences between self-perceptions and the managers’ observation of millennials. And in particularly, for the management group, we asked them to report the size of millennials that they had the opportunity to work with and to supervise, which ranged from small, such as one to five millennials, to relatively large, more than 16, as shown on this slide. So, in this presentation, we will share results of their assessment of work, life, social value, as related to diversity and inclusion initiatives.

So, our results show both millennials and the managers agree that they value diversity and inclusion. About four items that were asked in the questionnaire specifically linked to diversity and inclusion, such as we value diversity people at work. We value work/life quality more than income. We are very supportive of social causes and socially responsible companies. And we prefer working teams and value team collaboration.

And both millennials and managers showed a very high percentage of agreement on all of those four items that we asked. And items relate to diversity inclusion in terms of ratings. Millennials indicated they value diversity in the workplace, and they are strong supporters of social causes and socially responsible companies. Managers assessment also confirmed millennials’ strong desire and value diversity and are supporting social causes. In addition, very interesting– managers rated the millennials higher in team collaboration than the millennials rated themselves.

Gender matters– our study also found women rank the most items higher than male millennials. When asked about their own value on diversity-related questions, women are more significantly positive than men. Female millennials believe they value more diversity, and they are more of social causes and socially responsible companies.

We also assessed as a critical role diversity is plain when organizations recruiting for top talent. In our surveys, when asked about the 10 important to recruitment of drivers in helping millennials make a job decision, when they look for jobs. Out of the 10 drivers, there are three specifically relevant to organizations’ recruitment efforts, increasing diversity and inclusion. Both millennials and the manager believed it is important for an organization to address their efforts in increasing diversity or recruiting for top talent. And the written results showed that actually millennials have been attracted to organizations by the efforts and initiated in diversity and inclusion, either addressing job descriptions, websites, or simply through the interview process by sharing the different aspects organizations have been making.

So overall, millennials said they are ambitious. They’re passionate about work, and they value diversity and social responsibility. They want to work for an organization who shares the same values with them. And also, in our studies in both surveys, we asked about organizations’ retention efforts in diversity as perceived by millennials and their managers. Not surprisingly, organizations’ retention efforts also played a critical role in retaining top talent after successfully recruiting them.

So, both millennials and their managers agreed that diversity programs and initiatives are important, as showed by the percentage on this slide. Millennials believe organizations are making efforts to support balanced work/life approach. Organizations also made afterwards to create the open/positive culture to encourage diversity and the collaboration. And also, they do feel organizations have been making efforts engaging socially responsible programs and initiatives. But also, managers believed their organizations aren’t doing much more to retain millennials than the millennials themselves.

Based on our written results, millennials felt that their organizations have done a good job in supporting the work/life balance, but they also felt that organizations can do more in developing and engaging in socially responsible strategies and programs. They also felt organizations can do more in building up an open and positive culture that values diversity and also provided more mentoring opportunities for them.

So overall, quick summarization based on research findings, specifically looking at the diversity and inclusion initiatives. Millennials are very confident about their future, and that they expect the organization to do more to establish diversity and inclusion, as a priority on the corporate agenda. So next, I’m going to turn to Dr. Reber to share some programs that developed by higher education institutions to encourage diversity and inclusion.

BRYAN REBER: Thank you, Dr. Meng. Dr. Meng sort of laid the foundation for our presentation today, as she is identified trans and helped us understand how millennials and their managers work together. Pat and I are going to now look at some initiatives that are happening both at the level of higher education and at the corporate agency level to try to address the needs of diversity inclusion, as they relate to recruitment and retention of diverse employees.

We understand that at the university level, that it’s important to get diverse students into the professional pipeline and so identifying and preparing those students should be high on our agendas. A couple of programs that I want to talk about, first of all, is one that has been developed by the Plank Center itself.

As board members of the Plank Center, Pat and I are very proud of this initiative and appreciate the leadership that’s been put into it. The Challenge for Emerging Leaders Program is a program that was initiated last February– February of 2017– on the campus of the University of Georgia. This inaugural event had 18 students from five universities participating. These students were hand-selected by the faculty at their universities for this experience. Not only did the students have the opportunity to learn from some of the best professionals in the industry and the best academics, they also gained crucial self-insights.

They advanced their conflict management and team building skills. They acquired basic business knowledge. And along with these activities and assessments, students were divided into teams to work through a diversity case study. The program was such a success that it is going on the road, which is what I think is a best practice for academic programs to not only be in one area but to nurture diversity around the country.

And so, after having been at the University of Alabama last February, on November 9 through 11 of this year 2017, the Challenge for Emerging Leaders Program is going to engage 20 students from five area schools in Chicago, and it will be at DePaul University. And we’re very much looking forward to that program. As this continues, we already have a commitment for a 2018 Challenge for Emerging Leaders in the New York City area and so we’re excited that this is building some momentum and has enough industry interest to help support it. So, the cost to participating students in schools is minimal.

The second program I want to talk to you about is one that we have begun at the University of Georgia, where the goal of the program is to bring diverse students and the profession together. And we’re calling this simply AdPR Academy. The notion of AdPR Academy is that it’s a scalable and strategic solution to aid in the advancement of diversity and minority leadership in advertising and public relations. This was developed by the Department of Advertising, and Public Relations at the University of Georgia.

It is a week-long career orientation and sort of a boot camp that happens during the spring break of many colleges in our area. The founding support came from Erwin Creates and from Moxie– two angel donor organizations. And so, there is no cost to the students who participate. It aids in the advancement of diversity and minority leadership in our fields, provides professional hands-on development experience, and it’s open to undergraduates and first-year graduate students. With 25 in the first class of spring of 2017, we are planning for a second class of 30 participants during spring break 2018 in March.

The process for the academy is a competitive application process. So, we are trying to especially target historically black colleges and universities with this initiative. Being in Georgia and in the southeastern United States, we have several great HBCU institutions to draw from. So, the application process is competitive for these students.

They have to have a minimum grade point average. They have to write an essay for why this is important to them. And then we’re able to provide it at no cost to the students, because of the generous sponsorship of a number of organizations. The only cost to students, at this point, has been travel and lodging. And we’re hoping this year to find an industry sponsor in the hotel industry, so we can alleviate that cost, as well for them.

I want to give you one example of a member of the first class of the AdPR Academy. Orlando Pimentel is a first-generation American. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia, which the University of Georgia students were not our primary target. But in the first year, we allowed some students like Orlando to join us.

Orlando has a not uncommon experience. As a first-generation American, his parents, who are both day laborers, he describes his home as the only way you would recognize somebody is living there is that there were cars parked in the front. So he comes from modest circumstances, but we’re pleased to say that after he was a commencement speaker for the Grady College of Journalism Mass Communication in spring of 2017, after he had been through AdPR Academy, he landed an entry-level position at Porter Novelli in Washington DC. I’ve talked to him since, and he’s having a great experience there. And of course, while AdPR Academy was just one bit of his preparation, he appreciates the program and what it did to help him prepare for the profession.

The recruitment process is through a website that links here. You can take a look at this website and see the application process. One thing that is unique about this program is despite the fact that it’s sponsored by a university, the instruction is not by university but by professionals. Professionals come in to present the material that we, as academics, have identified and laid out in what we think is a logically pedagogical fashion.

And so this serves as two important ways. One, for students to learn directly from people who are doing this on a day to day basis but probably more importantly for the networking opportunities that this provides students. They find out how representatives of Burson-Marsteller or Golan and or Ketchum or Coca-Cola or UPS– some of the great brands in Atlanta– how these people identify in their organizations, and the kind of expertise they bring. And then it, of course, provides the organizations opportunity to identify talent that is being trained and is interested in joining the field. Now, I’m going to turn over the microphone to our friend, Patrick Ford to talk about what’s happening in the industry.

PATRICK FORD: Thank you, Dr. Reber and Dr. Meng. I’m here in part to fill in details about what kinds of activity are actually happening in the field. And in part, I’m here for that because I’ve been committed to diversity inclusion and especially as it relates to millennials for many years. But also because I’m on a number of organizations that have very good visibility into the programs that are being done in companies and in agencies. And I’ve also participated as a judge in recent diversity award programs.

And so I would start out by saying that major agencies increasingly recognize the need for action and need to have a bias for action, rather than just words, when it comes to advancing diversity and inclusion in our profession. And they recognize increasingly that this starts at the top and then has to include every level, particularly to address the aspirations and concerns that Dr. Meng identified in the data on millennials. And so in these programs– in these initiatives that agencies are taking– the top executives have to recognize that they need to make the resources available. Which when you’re in an agency setting, one of the most important resources is time because they are usually selling their professional time. And you need to be able to enable and empower your employees to undertake these initiatives and think them up and encourage that enterprise and to then provide the support for them to do that and the time to do it.

But it also needs to start at the top because you need to create a safe environment for a broad range of discussions that, especially millennials, want to have in the workplace and just we’re not necessarily happening when I first got in the business many years ago, as a baby boomer. And so we’ve got to be focused not just on recruiting new and diverse talent but also retaining that talent by building a more inclusive workplace and an environment for all diverse populations to thrive. And many agencies are undertaking those initiatives. I’m going to outline some specifically being done by Burson-Marsteller, but I’ll touch on some that I’ve seen or learned about in other agencies as well.

And I would mention that the organization that represents PR agencies, which is called the PR Council, has taken up this banner as well and is doing quite a few initiatives on a whole range of issues, involving diverse populations and women in leadership and getting some very good results too. And they are co-sponsoring a very successful award program with PR Week called Diversity Distinction in Public Relations Awards of which my firm this year– Burson-Marsteller– won the Top Agency Initiative Award. And I was extremely proud last year to win the top award for agency diversity champion. So we’ve been very active in being increasingly recognized for that commitment in the field.

I also would mention that the Holmes Report in collaboration with the City College of New York and specifically, Angela Chitkara there, completed a very interesting study recently in which they interviewed the CEOs of many of the top agencies. And I think it’s very important to take a look at that study because it both illustrates the commitment and the involvement that the CEOs are taking in their firm’s initiatives. But also, in the course of discussing those, this study definitely identifies continuing gaps and needs for improvement in the diversity inclusion area. So, let me start quickly with some of the initiatives at Burson.

At Burson, we’ve had a saying for a long time– BM Burson-Marsteller. We’ve said BM– being more. And we organize a lot of our programs around the world on the concept of being more. And so, as we started to reinvigorate our diversity and inclusion program a couple of years ago, we called it Together Being More.

And this involved many different kinds of initiatives– quite a few of which have sprung from the employees themselves at every level. And partly, that’s because we’ve reinvigorated and really put emphasis on employee resource groups, which has been a best practice in many companies for a long time and is something that our firm and other firms have been doing.

I think there’s an excellent program, for example, at Edelman on employee resource groups that I’ve seen the details on. It’s very impressive. Not only because they get many of their employees involved but they also empower them to do real substantive work. For example, their Latino employee resource group did pro-bono work after the Pulse nightclub killings in Orlando last year, which was a very meaningful thing for their internal stakeholders. And so, at Burson, we’ve got employee resources for African-American employees, Latino, LGBTQ, women, and we’re continuing to develop more as well.

And these leaders of these initiatives and our US leadership team, have also tremendously strengthened our Diversity Council so that we’re looking all the time at ways we can enhance that program. And it’s particularly enhanced because earlier this year, we appointed as our US CEO Mike Fernandez, who has been a longtime chief communications officer at several companies but also has been recognized throughout the PR field as a great, great champion of diversity inclusion. And he was among the first Latino chief communications officers in the country, and he has really brought a strong commitment and support to that program. But in the theme of what we’re talking about here and the data that Professor Meng outlined, it’s important to note that we’re really aiming a lot of this and empowering the millennials.

So we have a program called Raise Your Voice in which we have a mentorship program and reverse mentoring circles. And we also have instituted mandatory training for directors and above on implicit or unconscious bias, which as many of us know is a particularly difficult thing that we’ve got to overcome inside every company. And we put nearly 150 of our leaders through that training so far, and it’s going to be continuing to roll out throughout our system. And then we’ve also set up a special page on our intranet system, which we call BM Source. We have a special page for our “together being more” initiatives.

We’ve been really doing throughout the year but also particularly focusing on opportunities within the heritage months. And particularly, this year was very impressive.

During Black History Month, a number of our employees– them most of the millennials. Many of them were just out of school within the past few years, and they hadn’t seen or heard a lot about African-American pioneers in public relations. And so they started an initiative in which they put together a museum type exhibit that they took around to several of our offices. I was there when they unveiled it in Washington.

Mike Fernandez hosted the event in New York, where we unveiled it. And it was a very high quality but also very substantive look at people like Ofield Dukes and Inez Kaiser and other pioneers in the PR field– and Emma Bowen– and what contribution they made to the field. And we did this as well. We did videos on a number of these pioneers over the course of Black History Month.

And in the slide presentation here, we have a link to a terrific video that was done by one of our employees on Emma Bowen, the founder of the Emma Bowen and this was particularly poignant because this employee, Andrea O’Neil, who is a millennial and is a terrific employee in our Washington office. She was an alumna of the Emma Bowen program and was directly supported by this initiative. And so, she herself was narrating this video with great pride. But we had a number of them over the course of the month.

And then we did similar exercises during our pride month in May and then also during our Hispanic Heritage Month in September and October. And we’re going to continue to build on these initiatives all through the year that I’ll talk about in a second. But also focus that attention on these heritage months and we’ve gotten very positive feedback– both from inside and outside the firm on those.

If you look at the next slide, you can see that the involvement and participation in– this happened to be the pride event in our New York office, which was very well attended, and we’ve done similar things over the course of the other heritage months as well. And if we look at the next slide, we set up over the course of the year a lot of diversity inclusion discussion forums. And I can tell you that grew out of recommendations and urging of our employees, especially quite a few of our millennial employees, who made the point to several of us in management that when they see debate going on about race and policing or LGBTQ rights or transgender rights, they’re finding themselves talking about that in their own community and their own friendship circles and in their homes.

But then they come to work for 8 or 9 or 10 hours a day. And they said, we’re not really having those conversations, and we’d like to have them. We’d like to talk about what that means for this generation in communications and in the workplace.

So we initiated a number of really excellent discussion forums– some with outside speakers, some of them just for our own employees. Our Burson Latino group did an excellent forum on hitting the market in the digital age and how to reach Hispanic media through social media. We did a program on LGBTQ rights and the current political environment.

We had a terrific program in Washington with the leader of the Transgender Equality Organization. And then we did an event for an author, a Washington Post reporter named Wesley Lowery, who had just done a book a bestselling book called quote “They Can’t Kill Us All” unquote. And our employees were vigorously engaged in these conversations and very positive feedback after them.

And so, in that spirit, as we look at the next slide, part of what we’ve done– and I think a number of firms are doing– is looking to really collaborate with and develop partnerships with the organizations that are focused on this throughout the PR field. So that includes things like the Arthur Page Society, which has training programs on implicit bias The Plank Center, which I’m very proud to be the co-chair of the Diversity Inclusion Committee, along with Professor Nilanjana Bardhan. And we’re doing a number of webcast and programs related to diversity inclusion and engaging agencies along with that.

The Emma Bowen Foundation is a terrific program for generating interns and young professionals. The same with INROADS. Also, the LAGRANT Foundation– I’m proud to be on the board of the LAGRANT Foundation, which provides scholarships to undergraduate and graduate, who aspire to be in advertising and public relations fields, and then works very hard– and we on the board work exceedingly hard. They then try and place those scholars in internships and eventually in full-time positions. And I can tell you that some of our best employees have come out of that program.

And then many firms and organizations are also supporting the PRSA Foundation, which is charity right now by Judith Harrison, the chief diversity officer at Weber Shandwick, which Weber Shandwick itself also has excellent programs. But she’s leading a board that at the PRSA Foundation that is, again, generating a very focused program for helping students to find their way into the right kind of positions in the relations field. And so but I think a lot of us in the profession feel is that we have come quite a ways over the past the past 10 or 15 years, but we still are not where we’d like to be.

We welcome the zeal and engagement and active participation of the millennials based on the attitudes that Dr. Meng has identified there. And as we move along, we’re trying to close those gaps between the point of view of millennials and the people that manage them, and we think we see progress in that area. But we are absolutely committed to continue that. And that wraps up this part of the program.

And what I would say is, I think I speak for all of us on this panel in saying that we would welcome follow-up questions through email or otherwise. We are reachable through, the Plank Center but also through our own organizations. And we’re eager to continue these conversations with professionals throughout our profession.

JESSIKA WHITE: Well thank you so much for identifying ways and solutions to enhance your organization’s practice on diversity and inclusion, engagement, and professional development. A special thanks to our panelists who provided a meaningful conversation on this important topic. And as Pat mentioned, The Plank Center is a catalyst for organizations and individuals. We recognize the importance of this.

Of course, diversity and inclusion are key to attracting and engaging top talent, and we encourage you to look at not only this study that Dr. Meng discussed but also other webinars that we’ve done on this important topic for our website at because together, we can all be champions of diversity and inclusion. Thank you all so much and have a great day.