Millennials, Diversity and Inclusion in the Public Relations Industry

There is much discussion in the public relations and communication industry about the role and impact of the millennial generation on the workforce and workplace culture. Research shows that millennial communication professionals (MCPs) are the most diverse and socially and politically engaged generation to date, and that they expect organizations to be diverse and inclusive. However, there is a gap between desires and expectations, and how to actually achieve these conditions.  This webinar is designed to start conversations about MCPs, cultural perceptions in the workplace, and what can be done on individual and organizational levels to support open, diverse and inclusive workplace cultures.

Presenters included: Dr. Bruce Berger, Professor Emeritus of Advertising & Public Relations, University of Alabama; Aerial Ellis, Instructor of Public Relations, Lipscomb University; Dr. Juan Meng, Associate Professor of Public Relations, University of Georgia and Sarah Elise Vasquez, Brand Intern at Edelman (Los Angeles). Moderated by Leah Seay, Assistant Manager, Public Policy Communications, General Motors.

Access: Slide Presentation

LEAH SEAY: Hello, everyone. We’re going to go ahead and get started now. My name is Leah Seay, and I am the assistant manager of public policy communications at General Motors. I service GM’s lead communicator and media relations contact on state and local issues and support various topics, including autonomous vehicles, advanced technology, North American manufacturing, and global and federal issues. My relationship with The Plank Center began a few years ago, while I was pursuing my master’s in advertising and public relations at the University of Alabama.

And it really is an honor to be here today with you all to discuss millennials, diversity, and inclusion in the PR industry. Jessika White, Dr. Karla Gower, and The Plank Center board continually work to support students, educators, and practitioners, advancing knowledge of leadership values and skills in the profession. Their research programs, like the Challenge for Emerging Leaders, the Educator Fellowship Program, and its online resources and webinars like these. The Center continues to bridge the gap between the practice and academia.

And today, we’ll be discussing millennials, diversity, and inclusion in the PR industry. This was designed to start conversations about millennials communication professionals, cultural perceptions in the workplace, and be done on individual and organizational levels to support open, diverse, and inclusive workplace cultures. With that, I’d like to introduce you to today’s [AUDIO OUT] group of panelists, many of whom I call friends, who have a breadth of knowledge and experience in this space.

First, I have Aerial Ellis, who serves as a professor at Lipscomb University in the Department of Communication in journalism, where she teaches courses in leadership, organization communication, public relations, and cross-cultural communication. With her consulting practice at [AUDIO OUT] 83, she is committed to helping organizational leadership transform culture at all levels, is author of the book The Original Millennial Lessons in Leadership for the Millennial Generation, which is an awesome book, by the way.

Elise Vasquez is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She recently announced as the single national recipient of the Daniel J. Edelman and PRSSA Award and is interning with Edelman Los Angeles, a leading global communications marketing firm. She has a firm belief that professional development serves as one of the greatest avenues of empowerment. She brings this belief in the role she plays as communications officer of We, Too, Are America, where she oversees marketing efforts and [AUDIO OUT] that empower the immigrant community.

Next, we have Juan Meng, who is an assistant professor of PR at the University of Georgia. Her focus is on leadership and public relations, measurement, trust, employee engagement, and reputation management. Dr. Meng also founded and directs UGA’s ADPR Choose China Study Abroad Program. Dr. Meng has received more than $190,000 in funding grants to support her research in the past six years.

And last, we have Dr. Bruce K. Berger, who is a professor emeritus of advertising and public relations in the College of Communication and Information Sciences at the University of Alabama. In addition to being the founding director and research director of The Plank Center for Leadership and Public Relations, he serves on the board of advisors. Dr. Berger’s research encompasses public relations leadership, employee communications, and public policy influence.

His [INAUDIBLE] acclaim in both the Academy and in the profession and that is an accomplishment that very few can rightfully claim. [AUDIO OUT] we urge you to type your questions into the Q&A box that you guys can see online for our panelists, and we ask you to hold all your questions, and we’ll get to them at the end of the webinar. So, feel free to type them and we’ll discuss them at the end. Now to get things started, I will pass the ball off to you, Aerial.

AERIAL ELLIS: Thank you for joining us today. We want to get started setting the tone by having a conversation specifically about how millennials have redefined the space of diversity and inclusion. If you could [AUDIO OUT] where everyone’s ideas were valued, where [AUDIO OUT] are taken to support [AUDIO OUT] potential ideas and dynamic leaders, as they realize their dreams, solve the problems within their community.

One of the most important aspects of this is giving all of us a way to understand how to embody the culture that is within us, how culture is shifting, mainly because culture is a way of life. Culture emerges. It’s organic. It’s happening all around us. We build culture, as we go along our day-to-day lives, and it’s an important part of understanding how generations work.

We consider the way in which globalization of say, music, business, education, politics, social media, and even the most recent Black Lives Matter movement, and even the more recent Take a Knee movement– hashtag movement, if you will– has taken hold of our attention and also our patterns of competence, communication, and consumption, as a result have shifted dramatically. But it all leads us to this question why?

If this is so, why is this the norm? And leads us to also ask not only why but why not? And essentially, it’s because we’re at the crux of a cultural shift. And this shift is being led by the millennial generation.

And one [AUDIO OUT] reason which we answer that question is, of course, by simply asking the question. One of the things that the millennial generation does most effectively, if you will, is answer or ask the question why and determine the best ways to answer that. It’s because [AUDIO OUT] we’re problem solvers, we’re extremely creative. We’re pioneering in coming up with ideas. We’re committed to one another, as well as to our community.

We’re very forward thinking. We’re also very bold, collaborative, and experimental. [AUDIO OUT] as we [AUDIO OUT] all those major attributes that are connected to the millennial generation.

We have to ask why are the stereotypes about our generation so deeply embedded in the language around [INAUDIBLE] millennials truly are. It’s [AUDIO OUT] is complex. [AUDIO OUT] way of creating some difficulties for us, and that change is so complex.

[INAUDIBLE] we often have frustrations from the ways in which [AUDIO OUT] are working alongside of us, and frustration can also create resistance. [AUDIO OUT] when generations are in work spaces together, we have this resistance to [AUDIO OUT] work together and find opportunities to develop synergy. There’s [AUDIO OUT] anxiety sometimes– just anxiety from lack of resources or underutilized opportunities for resources.

And there’s confusion that makes change complex. And confusion oftentimes has a lot to do with us being uncertain about what direction we’re going in culturally. So that creates a variety of different ways in which the millennial generation is not only leading a cultural shift but also a very complex space and [AUDIO OUT] that change doesn’t always create opportunities for us to work most collectively together.

[AUDIO OUT] when generations ask why, it exposes the opportunity for us to look at cultural change as a way in which problem will disrupt the system. When [AUDIO OUT] go a next step further and start to ask why not, which is ultimately what millennials leaders do. We start to see that social entrepreneurship becomes this thing culturally, and we can’t begin to solve problem by disrupting the system.

We start to look at what that really means for millennials. It means that we have to start defining who we are. It means that the term is more critical for us to start to look at.

The term applies to individuals who [AUDIO OUT] back applies to individuals who reach adulthood around the 21st century– around the turn of the 21st century, that is– born between 1980 and 1995.

Researchers [AUDIO OUT] all kind of end that data around 1995. In my research, I like to end that date around ’95. But a second round of that research will extend the dates into the year 2000. So, most generations have a 15-year lifespan, if you will. Not necessarily lifespan, but a range, if you will, for ages. And so, we’re situated between the year ’80 and ’95.

We’ll also, of course, know Generation Y directly following Generation Z. Today, the millennial generation makes up 1.7 billion individuals. Global population making a third of that population.

Also, you’ll see that, as I said, our slide is going between a 15-year range, if you will. Some researchers are taking that five year– add another five years to that and taking the generation into the year 2000.

I do predict that maybe we’ll see that slide coming back down to ’95 as Generation Z and Digital Natives become more defined as it relates to their attributes. However, in the US, we have seen that 80 million of individuals in the US are millennials. And we are truly the largest generation to date.

What that means for organizations, organizational culture, and ultimately, the space of diversity and inclusion result of the number– the impact it will make. 75% of workforce were millennials by 2025. And ultimately, change the face of leadership.

[AUDIO OUT] organizational leaders now becoming increasingly concerned that they not be able to find the traditional type of talent that they’ve seen over the years that they know is tried and true in allowing their organizations to succeed. However, it means that businesses are actually competing for the talent available to not only replace Boomers, but supplement the work that Baby Boomers have done over the years. It means that every year, more and more of that talent is going to be recruited from the ranks of millennials.

There are some very serious reasons why millennials matter, and how we’re reframing and shaping the space of diversity and inclusion. The first reason was organizational success and sustainability. Of course, because we’re a very large generation in number.

Reason 2, technology and the speed of just culture in general has shifted our patterns of consumption in a way where we learn quickly. And we seek to– we seek advancement quickly. So that reason of being able to learn the ropes, and then come for our boss’s job or look for the advancement quickly is critical.

Reason 3, we have options. We can work for a variety of different companies. We can also decide we want to work for ourselves.

And Reason 3, [AUDIO OUT] organizations for the most part as it relates to success not only in number, but also externally and internally, organizations will start to wane.

So, three reasons I’ll give you that are directly connected to some of the things that you’ll hear from our next couple of presenters are, 1, millennials are leading the cultural shift, as I said. We’ve seen a distinct increase of the largest generation to date. An increase in not only diversity in number, but diversity in background. As we see a population shift as it relates to our ethnic makeup of our nation, we’ll see that more millennials, for the most part.

Many are coming from single-parent homes, blended families, have first born– a first-generation-born American. So, we see that from a diversity standpoint, as it relates to the numbers, racially, ethnically, and our family makeup [AUDIO OUT] cultural shift.

The third way the millennials are redefining the space of diversity and inclusion, we have a very serious need for expression and acceptance. We’re less concerned about the traditional way in which diversity is considered– race, age, and gender. That is an absolute for us. We are accustomed to and must see spaces where there are various races, gender, ethnicity, et cetera. We’re now more concerned about how those things then show up in the space of thoughts, ideas, and philosophies.

Organizations are forced to rethink and redefine their approach. The third way in which we are shifting diversity and inclusion or redefining is that we’re commanding inclusion and innovation. That means that these traditional spaces, again, have to rethink the way that– traditional spaces are having to rethink s approach because connectedness for us is very critical. We want to be able to see how diversity and inclusion impacts the bottom line of a business, so we can have greater innovation in that organizational space.

So clearly, we have the resources, the [AUDIO OUT] and the power to be able to see how millennials are redefining the space of diversity and inclusion. My research collectively through the six lessons of leadership in the original millennial is that the thoughts around diversity and inclusion set the tone for who millennials will be as leaders in the organizational culture that we ultimately will be a part of. Not only where [AUDIO OUT] now, but as we see organizations shape what they are in the future.

SARAH VASQUEZ: Thank you so much, Aerial. Hi, everyone. My name’s Sarah Vasquez, and I’m going to be continuing and sharing my experience with perception in the workplace.

Ever asked a friend what their initial perceptions of you were? Did it surprise you?

By the time you walk into a room, people will have already made their own perception of you. So, what’s in a first impression?

According to a report released by the Harvard Study of Communication, it only takes seven seconds for you to make a first impression on another human being. 30% of what makes up a first impression is how you sound. So, they [AUDIO OUT] your voice, your pitch, how loud or soft you speak. 55% of a first impression is based off of your physical appearance. OK. So, let’s think on this one.

How do you dress? What are you most drawn to in choosing a shirt or a blouse from your closet in the morning? Do you look to stand out among other employees in your office space? 7% of a first impression are the words you say.

Isn’t that’s strange how the very top percentages are based on physical traits that we can’t quite control? So what insights can be found from these false impressions?

So, while first impressions may or may not be true, I think important for minorities and people in marginalized groups to understand what that perception is. And again, those perceptions may or may not be harmful, but can still be wrong. So, take time to understand other people’s perceptions of you can be difficult, but it also provides really great insight into an environment you may be working in.

Provide insight into what your peers and coworkers may believe to be true of people from ethnic or diverse backgrounds. And this can be very helpful because once you start to understand how your peers may perceive you or someone with a background similar to you, the ball is then in your court to decide whether or not this perception is true and change it if you wish.

So, make a list of how people might perceive you and a separate list of how you perceive yourself. [AUDIO OUT] links between these two separate lists. [INAUDIBLE] within these details, you can identify opportunities to showcase your strongest trait and find a way to use a stereotype [AUDIO OUT] perception to your advantage.

For example, I graduated from college a year earlier than I planned to. I’m just under five feet. I have a soft speaking voice. And I will forever have a baby face. So, what these descriptive traits say about me.

[AUDIO OUT] nothing, [AUDIO OUT] everything. If you didn’t know much about me and these were the only things that you could see or that you did know, what would you assume? Maybe she’s young. Maybe she’s smart. She’s new, shy. She might even be naive.

I’ve done my homework. I know for a fact that this is usually how people might perceive me when I walk into a room. When I relocated to Los Angeles after college, one of my goals was to create a new network for myself. Again, reaching out to different professionals whose careers I wanted to learn more about.

I met with a Hollywood producer. He didn’t seem to take me very seriously at first and was very quick to make comment about my youthful appearance. The thing is, I already knew that he was going to perceive me this way. Because he was expecting me to act a certain way, I surprised him by being my eloquent and mature self. So, I may not look like I am in my mid-20s, but I sure act like it. Again, this is an example of how you might be able to use [AUDIO OUT], especially about millennials, to your advantage.

So, once we’ve spent some time informing ourselves on the generalizations that people place on us and others and cross-reference these ideas of what we know to be true about our self, [AUDIO OUT] a very empowering thing. And even draw inspiration into our desire to change the way that others view us and people might look, think, or act like us.

These exercises can also be scary. They might cause fear or result in anxiety or overthinking. Time for another story.

I mentioned in the previous slide, I understand how others perceive me. And [AUDIO OUT] based on physical traits, like the way I look or sound and things I can’t quite change about myself. So, a few years ago, I was an intern for the Barjon Group. And there’s a group of interns with me. And all of them were these overachieving upperclassmen. Meanwhile, I had just began my sophomore year of college, and this was one of my first PR-focused internships. So, I couldn’t help thinking about how much smarter, older, more knowledgeable these other interns were than me.

One day, Nikki Barjon, the founder of the Barjon Group herself, called me out on this anxiety. She said, you’re so worried about what other people may think of you that you allow them to think those things if you categorize yourself into them.

I had not realized that I have been apologizing for my age. I was loud. I was saying things like, I know I’m the youngest here, or maybe this person should do this assignment since I haven’t taken a class in this yet. Literally, [AUDIO OUT] absurd. I was taking myself out of the game before the coach even put me in. So that’s my point.

[AUDIO OUT] time, spend more energy defining what people think than worrying about preconceived perceptions. Talk about pigeonholing. OK.

[AUDIO OUT] Latina, I often face this inner battle with myself [INAUDIBLE] owning diversity. Owning my own diversity. And does that make any sense? Are there any other POCs who are listening to this and might feel the same way?

Over the last couple of years, I have done [AUDIO OUT] interviews. I’ve realized that usually, the first question they ask me is if I speak Spanish. And I don’t. I’m a Latina that doesn’t know Spanish [INAUDIBLE]. And I’ve had connections hand my resume to Latino-specific or multicultural agencies or PR firms.

And frankly, to be honest, it kind of bothers me because I’ve realized that I can support minorities. I can support Latinos in my own way being involved in special interest groups that I’m a part of and the organizations that I [AUDIO OUT]. But it’s taken me such a long time to realize that I am also allowed to have other passions, other career interests.

So yes, I’m a Latina millennial. It’s my integral duty to represent my generation of people of color. But 2017, no person should be treated as a residential POC.

You can see above in the slide, I selected to represent current events and the newest portrayal of the minority or POC struggle. Public relations professionals spend hours sifting through trends and news. They see the stories. They see the news. And it’s their job to decipher what the public media are feeling, so they can find a way navigate and elevate their brands due to these tensions. [AUDIO OUT] times they do not stop. I learned from Pepsi [INAUDIBLE]. Yeah. No, millennials don’t go to protest [INAUDIBLE].

Back to what I was saying. Sometimes, public relations professionals can get so caught up in their brand at work, that they understand the real-life effects and consequences of these current events.

[AUDIO OUT]. You’d have to be the office POC. But know that you have these– but know that you can have these open-type [AUDIO OUT] with supervisors and even coworkers [INAUDIBLE] views and real-life effects of PO– and real-life effects of these views on POC and real-life groups.

So, go ahead, pick their brains and see what they really know about what’s happening in their news. And yes, having these conversations can be difficult and will be difficult. But greatly contribute to a company’s efforts to be a more welcoming place.

So, one of [AUDIO OUT] under the recently ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. [INAUDIBLE] absolutely brilliant. And [INAUDIBLE] for a top PR firm. And it wasn’t until she decided to share her undocumented status with coworkers that they began to understand what DACA ending really meant.

So unfortunately, people aren’t always bothered by things until they are, one, affected personally or two, know someone who is affected personally. And when her coworkers found out, they were so distraught at the possibility of losing one of their teammates, like one of their friends, that they flagged their supervisors. And their supervisors flagged managers. And pretty soon, the GM knew what was going on himself.

They are working together to support and protect my friend in this time of instability. And you don’t have to share personal information or go as far as maybe release a status. But [AUDIO OUT] sharing your opinion on matters that affect you personally and that affect you emotionally. It can truly make a difference in the culture of your office environment.

JUAN MENG: Thank you, Sarah, for all the great stories and information. So, hello, everyone. This is Juan Meng from University of Georgia. So today, I’d like to share some research findings based on the research project that we did last year.

This project largely investigated millennial communication professionals’ perceptions on recruitment, engagement, leadership development, and the retention efforts as demonstrated by their organizations. Project was sponsored by The Plank Center for Leadership in PR and the Institute for Public Relations.

So, to the research findings. Let me share with you a very interesting finding from Deloitte study that helped us set the stage for our discussion on diversity and inclusion this [AUDIO OUT] generations.

Millennials think about diversity in very different context. For example, millennials are more likely to define diversity as pertaining to the individual mix of unique experiences, identities, ideas, and opinions. Diversity is not simply framed as those difference in demographics, equal opportunities, or the representation of identifiable or tangible demographic features, such as age, gender, et cetera. [INAUDIBLE] diversity means a variety of cultures and perspectives working together to solve business problems.

[INAUDIBLE] also define inclusion differently. Millennials, they focus primarily and extensively on teaming, team collaboration. There is a culture of connectivity, both online and offline. They’re using collaborative tools and technology to drive business impact. They have their understanding and expectation on inclusion compared to prior generation.

So, understanding and the high expectation on diversity and inclusion as expressed by millennials in general. Our [AUDIO OUT] reached out to two different groups of respondents. The first included 420 Millennial Communication Professionals, who we list as MCP on the slide. And [AUDIO OUT] was 420 managers, MGRs listed on the slide who have supervised and worked with millennials in their organization.

[AUDIO OUT] on this slide. The MCPs were about 63% female and 75% Caucasian. The majority worked in public and private corporations. And their top job responsibilities included general communications, social media, digital communications, and marketing communications.

[AUDIO OUT] survey, males and females were represented about equally. They were diverse in terms of ethnic background and focused more on general communications, marketing, and employee communication.

We also had the opportunity to ask managers [AUDIO OUT] millennials they have managed before. And size varied from small, like one to five to large, more than 16.

[AUDIO OUT] we asked the MCPs their perceptions on their workplace values and attributes. [AUDIO OUT], leadership capabilities, leadership development, organization’s recruitment and retention driver efforts, as well as their expectation on career [AUDIO OUT] outcomes. We asked the manager to assess millennials on the same areas of questions.

So now, some of our research findings. [INAUDIBLE] Group confirmed that MCPs valued diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The majority of our surveyed MCPs indicated that they value diversity of the people, work-life balance, big supporters of social cadres and social responsible companies. They prefer working teams. And the managers also agreed [AUDIO OUT].

The [AUDIO OUT] diversity and inclusion showed consistent patterns as well between the two groups. MCPs rated themselves high on valuing diversity of the people, seeking work-life balance, and being strong supporter of social causes and social responsibility companies. We did find out that managers actually rated MCPs higher on team collaboration than did millennials rated on themselves.

We also found that gender matters. Female and male MCPs have different perceptions. The [INAUDIBLE] women rated most items higher than male MCPs. [AUDIO OUT] their own value on diversity-related questions, women are more significant [INAUDIBLE] than men. Female MCPs believe they value more diversity and they are more supportive of social causes and socially responsible companies.

We also assessed the critical role of diversity in recruitment. We [AUDIO OUT] 10 important recruitment drivers in helping MCPs make a job decision. [AUDIO OUT] drivers. There are three specifically relevant to organization’s recruitment efforts in creating diversity and inclusion as listed on this slide. Both MCPs and managers believed it’s very important for organizations to address their efforts in creating diversity when recruiting top talent.

[AUDIO OUT] that, actually, MCPs have been attracted to organizations by their efforts and initiatives in diversity and inclusion. Either [AUDIO OUT] job description [AUDIO OUT] or simply through the job interview process.

MCPs said that organizations who address the socially responsible programs offer balanced work-life approach. Supported and open and positive cultures are more appealing to them to choose to work for.

[AUDIO OUT] organization’s retention efforts in diversity and inclusion are also important in retaining top talent. So, after we recruited top talent, what we can do to keep them.

Both MCPs and the managers agreed that diversity programs and initiatives are important. [AUDIO OUT] showed the percentage on this slide.

Both [AUDIO OUT] at that time, we found managers to believe that their organization is doing much more to retain MCPs than [AUDIO OUT] perceived in terms of efforts by the organization side. But both groups confirmed that organizations have been putting efforts in building the culture that value diversity and inclusion.

[AUDIO OUT] efforts have been made, but improvements are expected. [AUDIO OUT] that organizations have done a good job in supporting their work-life balance.

Also felt they can do more in developing and engaging in socially responsible strategies and programs. More proactive in building up community engagement programs. They also felt organization can do more in building up an open and a positive culture that value diversity and [AUDIO OUT] more training and development programs and workshop and opportunities. Also, to offer more mentoring opportunities for millennials to further develop job-related skills and build up networks.

So overall, research showed MCPs, they are ambitious, passionate about work, and value diversity and social responsibility. They have always cared about the social cause that’s embedded within their job and organization.

They want not an organization who shares the same values with them. MCPs are confident about their future and they expect their organization to do so. And also, do more to establish diversity and inclusion as a priority on the [AUDIO OUT] agenda.

Dr. Berger will be presenting how millennials actually can take an active role in creating diversity and inclusion in their organization. Thank you.

BRUCE BERGER: And good afternoon. Much of today is on how millennial communications professionals and public relations teams can lead and model diversity and inclusion change management in their companies, agencies, nonprofits, [AUDIO OUT] educational organizations across generations.

Noted today, diversity in many forms is crucial in organizations. Inclusion in my mind is the glue that binds individuals, teams, and organizations. Both Aerial and Juan noted research tells us that millennials value diversity, inclusion, transparency, community. They think it’s important to work in organizations that are, in fact, diverse and inclusive. So, it’s a generational belief and a value.

But the bigger issue is if we want to bring diversity inclusion to life in our organizations, we have to see it as a significant cultural change that requires a change management approach. This is a process that organizations use to try and move from [AUDIO OUT] to [AUDIO OUT] really living within that change condition. And the millennial communication professionals and public relations teams, in fact, can lead that change by being that change. And I’ll describe how we can do that at individual and team levels. But first, a few words about change management, the process.

Here are four things about change management. Change is a constant today. We know that. The mantra is change or die, literally. It’s the key to survival and success.

The real [AUDIO OUT] determining what are the right changes and being able to make them happen, to bring them to life.

Second, 75% of strategic change plans fail to realize all of their objectives. Often due to faulty leadership, or poor communication, or to cultural barriers and issues.

The [AUDIO OUT] is [AUDIO OUT] is a powerful force. We’ve long time had this 20-60-20 rule which says that 20% of employees in an organization seek and embrace change. 20% totally resist it. They don’t want to change. And 60% are really in between and must be convinced of the need for change. And that’s the target audience in change management.

Think of the cycle time for change. A lot to do with the cost, which is an issue for management. When change is first announced to the point it’s enacted and effective, creates a productivity gap. A cost, if you will. And effective communication can [AUDIO OUT] tight cycle time for change.

[AUDIO OUT] change of all kinds is grounded on really three foundation stones. First, have to support the change for any significant change, including diversity and inclusion. If there’s no support at the top, these probably aren’t going to change.

Communications are crucial. By that I mean, multiple channels, two-way, face-to-face, repetitive, interview sessions that can help inspire, explain, compel, and drive change awareness, understanding, belief, and ultimately, action.

The third, maybe the biggest of all, is organizational culture which can enable change, slow it, or block it entirely. This is where PR professionals come into play. As our center’s namesake, Betsy Plank, said more than 30 years ago, “The best communicators are agents of change.” Responsible change for our organizations. To help drive and lead that change, like embedding diversity and inclusiveness deeply in our culture.

It’s not to say we support the change. It’s not enough to say organizations need more diversity and inclusion. It’s not to say that it’s one of our values. Those things aren’t enough. We serve as agents of change to bring diversity and inclusion to life. Literally, be the change.

How can we do that? How can millennial communication professionals drive diversity and inclusion change? Well, at the individual level, a couple of things. First, [AUDIO OUT] compelling to the inclusion story. Be an advocate. Explain why. Why in the world is it so crucial in our organization? Can you do so? Most importantly, can you link it to the real questions and concerns that employees may have across generations?

[AUDIO OUT] rich narrative [AUDIO OUT], the benefits, [AUDIO OUT], success stories, and so on.

Second, tell your compelling story compellingly. In my [INAUDIBLE] years of teaching multi-millennial communication professionals at the University of Alabama, I have learned firsthand how tech savvy millennials are and about their strong values.

[AUDIO OUT] some concerns [AUDIO OUT] about interpersonal communication skills and critical thinking. If you [AUDIO OUT] text than talk in the workplace, that can be a problem in selling change across the generations. Speaking [AUDIO OUT] voice, your listening, speaking storytelling skills.

And think of three formats, really. That classic, sort of 60-second elevator speech where you set your story and longer 5 or 10-minute stories that you can tell in more formal or informal settings.

Now, what about public relations teams? The team in functional level. I think most important for us to model the [AUDIO OUT] way. [AUDIO OUT] advocated effectively for change if your team or if our team doesn’t reflect that desire to change. Your public relations team should do so in terms of how [AUDIO OUT] treats, how it empowers, recruits, [INAUDIBLE] and really develops people.

The team must steadily really push back on organizational culture and structure that really slow, impede, or block the needed change. [AUDIO OUT] is a huge issue because constantly churning. So, the challenge is to continue to push for and create a culture for communication, which I believe is the true framework and enabler for inclusion. And frankly, all big change programs.

Dr. Grunig, the foremost researcher in public relations, developed a concept of a culture for communication about 30 years ago. And the qualities of a culture like this are indicated in this slide. This type of communication-centered culture really provides a richer environment, enhancing our collective cultural competencies, really for learning, sharing information, best practices, being participative and inclusive, [AUDIO OUT] empowering, listening to each other, and reinforcing our commitment to each other in the organization.

All these competencies create a stronger sense of team, organizational identity, creativity, greater engagement, and stronger financial performance. Best of all, for all of us, they yield a great place to work.

Now, culture is difficult. Sustaining it is equally challenging because of the larger [AUDIO OUT], of which Aerial certainly described. And those that take place in organizations.

[AUDIO OUT] what I believe are the key change drivers that millennial communication professionals and PR teams can and really must use. First, let’s get diversity and inclusion not as a novelty, not as a difference, but as a cultural– a crucial culture of change that we must help manage and lead.

Believe it, we can be the change if we possess the willpower and tenacity required. Willpower is absolutely crucial. Model the way as a team. We need to tell compelling stories compellingly again and again and again. And the ways we need to push back on culture and structure in order to create a culture for communication. Thank you. I’ll turn it back to Leah at this point.

LEAH SEAY: Thank you to the rest of our panelists. Remember audience members, this is your opportunity to ask our panelists some of the questions that you might have from the material that they discuss. So, on your computers, you have a Q&A box right next to the chat box. [AUDIO OUT] box. And it will allow you guys to type in your questions, and I’ll get those to our panelists.

So, I will get us kicked off with the Q&A with a question. And then, hopefully we’ll have some questions rolling in from you all in our audience.

The first question for the panelists, what are some things that you do personally to promote D&I in the workplace? You guys can answer in whatever order and however you choose.

AERIAL ELLIS: This is Aerial with an answer to that question. I think for me as a [INAUDIBLE] and a consultant, it’s a space that I’m in regularly and helping organizations [INAUDIBLE] issue of diversity and inclusion. And then, also teaching my students in the strategic communication of PR majors as well as journalism major [INAUDIBLE] means to really embrace and embody the spirit of diversity and inclusion and make it come to life in the work that they do.

I think that what we have to do, though, is start to see real action. So, it’s one thing to keep a conversation going. I think The Plank Center does an excellent job at that. I know the PRSA, our national diversity committee, does an excellent job at that, too.

But we have to start to see programs, initiatives that really move diversity and inclusion [INAUDIBLE]. And then also, beyond creating the programs and initiatives, we have to also do some measurement, assessment, and reflection to ensure that the work that we’re doing is actually getting us to a more inclusive and equitable environment.

SARAH VASQUEZ: I’ll hop in. This is Sarah speaking. So just like how she said about taking from talking points to actually creating action points. I mentioned in my panel, I feel like it’s so important to actually have these conversations in the workplace. So, the things that you read. Young people, especially millennials. A lot of times, we get our news from things that we see on Twitter and Facebook.

If you read an article in the morning about something that bothers you or something that pertains to you, pertains to people who are like you, [AUDIO OUT]. Share it with your coworkers. Ask them what they think about it.

Like I said before, as PR professionals, we spend so much shifting through information that sometimes we become blind to what the news really means for our friends and for our community. So, I think it’s important to ask people about how they feel about certain things, just so that they know that, yes, the current events are happening. And you know, they are affecting people in my work environment who look like me or feel the same way I do.

JUAN MENG: Hi, this Juan speaking. From a high education educator’s perspective, we try to encourage students in class to have different assignments that involve discussion on diversity and inclusion. [AUDIO OUT] now almost the end of the millennial generation. And we started getting Gen Z come to college, and which is their bright generations that we need to think about how to encourage them to embracing the diversity and inclusion. Teaching perspective would also involve different guest speakers invited from organizations and entrepreneur, those starting up business owners to share their diverse background in terms of facing different challenges to share their experience with students to actually encourage students and give them early exposure about the diversity and inclusion efforts the industry or organization have been making.

LEAH SEAY: Anyone else that wanted to weigh in on that one?

Our second question goes directly to Dr. Meng. This person says, “Dr. Meng, thank you for sharing your research. First, I was wondering if you or The Plank Center could share out a link where your work was published.” Do you have a response to that one?

JUAN MENG: Thanks for the question. And absolutely. For this millennial communication professional project, we have finished. And we have already released and published research results in a research report on Plank Center’s website. If you go to Plank Center’s website, under the tab of Research you will be able to download the research report, which will give you some [INAUDIBLE] the findings and some key takeaways that you can use to share with either your colleagues or just as a reading to help you to understand what we researched.

LEAH SEAY: Wonderful. This next section we have, “Professor Berger’s emphasis on compelling [AUDIO OUT] storytelling is a key point. How would the panel relate this to the enormous groundswell on social media this week behind the hashtag #MeToo call to action? Can we create a similar concise call to action around D&I?”

BRUCE BERGER: Bruce. That’s an absolutely terrific question. And I like to talk with anybody who is interested in talking about that. I hardly know what to even say at the moment. But it’s a really good question. And I think people at The Plank Center would probably be interested in that. So, who asked the question, if you’re willing to contact us or interested that much in it, please do so because we love to try to chase [AUDIO OUT] somewhere.

LEAH SEAY: OK. All right, does anyone think that they wanted to weigh in on that question?

AERIAL ELLIS: Aerial. I’d like to weigh in just slightly on that. I agree with Dr. Berger. I think that there is power. Of course, we know as communicators, there’s power in being able to share and tell a story I think though, there would be concerns of individuals sharing their stories, particularly if they’re negative about some experiences that they’ve had around lack of diversity and inclusion and even equity.

And I think there is an excellent opportunity for us to particularly create a movement around it or someone to create a movement around that in connection to the way in which the hashtag #MeToo movement has just kind of taken over in the past couple days. But I would be concerned about the power of that [AUDIO OUT]. The fact that many individuals would be concerned about any backlash from certain companies or their careers. Or mentioning or disclosing information about how they were wronged in the workplace, or if they were wronged in the workplace, if we were to parallel them in that way.

But there is power in that. And I think that if there was an opportunity, or if someone did create an opportunity for that, I think that then our industry– because we lead conversations around when ads are offensive or when language excludes or portrays certain demographics in a negative light, there’s opportunity for us to capitalize on that, to have a conversation. But I would be [AUDIO OUT] people would not participate because of the concern about, what would that look like for them [AUDIO OUT] relates to [AUDIO OUT] sharing information connected to career? But there is absolutely a way, I believe, for us to do that.

BRUCE BERGER: Just to follow-on here, Aerial and Juan, is something that would be good to do, interesting to do, starting even in the classroom with students or some kind of project or whatever.

Aerial, I know as you point out, there are a number of issues and related concerns. But it’s something that offers, I think, some terrific opportunities.

LEAH SEAY: That’s great. And we still have a few questions coming in. We still have a few minutes left. So, if you guys have any additional questions that you would like to ask our panelists, feel free to still submit them in the Q&A box.

Our next question that we received, “What are your recommendations for getting more diverse candidates in the pipeline for recruitment?” And that can go to anyone.

JUAN MENG: OK. Juan. I’d like to kick off the discussion of this question. That is a great question. And I think that’s challenging way of facing both in the industry and also in the high education. How can we fill up the pipeline to increase the diversity [AUDIO OUT] from the student body and also for the young professionals?

[AUDIO OUT] we need to look into diversity from more of their perspective, not just the classical or old-fashioned way in terms of defining diversity about the tangible characteristics that we– or I discussed earlier in our panel that was discussed earlier.

[AUDIO OUT] looking to multiple criteria or multiple different sets, different set of skills the candidate brings in. And use their interpretation and their understanding of diversity and inclusion to really maximize the use of different sets of skill. [AUDIO OUT] not just filling up the pipeline, but also really bring their best out of their mind and out of their prepared knowledge and career path.

SARAH VASQUEZ: I’m going to weigh in, too from my perspective as a recent college graduate. I agree with what she said. We should be looking at it from the students’ perspectives.

I think that recruiters should meet the students where they are. When I was in college, there were so many D&I interest groups that I [AUDIO OUT] recruiters could have communicated with or could have [INAUDIBLE] with at their means.

And there’s so many talented students that would have loved to have the chance to sit down with a recruiter and talk about a company or potential job. So, I think if recruiters would spend more time actually looking for these types of organizations and colleges, probably make their search a lot easier.

LEAH SEAY: Want to weigh in on that one? If not, we have another question. Next question– was that someone?

Next question. “How do millennials combat old structures and old ways of doing business?” Anyone.


SARAH VASQUEZ: Thank you. Yeah, I definitely feel like I should answer this question. That’s difficult. Aerial mentioned a little bit about this in her panel, but I feel like we’re already doing it. A transition has already taken place.

I think some organization are a little bit, I guess resistant to change. But some experience working, I guess in my first full-time job, I haven’t faced that much opposition, I guess to [AUDIO OUT] ideas or [AUDIO OUT] opportunities in the workplace. I feel like in my [AUDIO OUT] company, the company that [AUDIO OUT] I’m at Edelman is very interested in hearing what I have to say. And I think it’s because a lot of the brands they work with, who are they targeting right now? They’re targeting millennials. And I’m a millennial.

Whenever I have an opportunity to speak about an idea I have in regards to a communication strategy or the way I feel about a certain advertisement, people are usually very eager to listen to me and to kind of pick my brain on these subjects.

I do think that if you are in a company that maybe is structured differently. Maybe they’ve not allowed younger people to speak out or to have a say in a strategy as other companies do, maybe there’s an opportunity for you to talk to a manager, a supervisor, a GM and collaborate on your ideas with this person. Maybe together, you and this person may be able to bring those large ideas to meetings, to another– I guess a meeting with a large group of people and just share those ideas. Just so that you have a little bit more of support. And it’s not as scary as speaking [AUDIO OUT] or speaking on your own.

BRUCE BERGER: Let me just comment on that quickly. I think that’s a terrific idea, Sarah.

Every generation confronts this question that was raised. What do I have to do to change how things have been done or are being done by a different generation? I went through that personally.

Before coming to academia, I spent 20 years in corporate public relations practice working with and across generations.

If we look at the millennial data that Juan shared, other parts of that data set, what we see is that while there are differences in perspectives and percentages. There’s actually at the core, a fairly strong group of managers from other generations who are really quite supportive of millennial communication professionals.

And so, in addition to turning to a manager, as Sarah suggested, look for people in your organization who you do feel that there is some sort of positive relationship with [AUDIO OUT] opportunity who opens up to you a little bit in terms of wanting to get you involved in doing things.

What I’m essentially saying is also, some real strong allies in virtually any organization that you will work in. Look for those allies.

LEAH SEAY: [INAUDIBLE] for that. We are now going to wrap up with our last question. Feel free to make your comments on this [AUDIO OUT]. “If you could leave our audience members with one key message about millennials and diversity in the PR industry, what would it be?”

AERIAL ELLIS: This is Aerial. I’ll say that to millennials, we’re leading a cultural shift and we have to be ones who continue to ensure that diversity and inclusion and equity continues to be at the forefront of the organizations that we serve. And so, we must be champions in that space.

JUAN MENG: This is Juan. So, I would just say be proactive and [AUDIO OUT] the millennials within the organization with a mentor to really challenge them and give them different opportunities to take the leadership role. So, prepare them well as the future leaders of our profession.

BRUCE BERGER: [AUDIO OUT] to be like Gandhi. OK? Be polite. Be [AUDIO OUT]. Be [INAUDIBLE].

SARAH VASQUEZ: [AUDIO OUT] good work, [AUDIO OUT] work. Continue that work. [AUDIO OUT] happening now and [AUDIO OUT] stop changing.

LEAH SEAY: Well, thank you all for choosing to spend your afternoon with The Plank Center and asking some awesome questions about millennials diversity and inclusion in the PR industry.

I would like to say a special thank you to our panelists who provided are meaningful conversation on this topic. And please note that the webinar will be archived on The Plank Center’s website. So, feel free to come back to it later. And also, share with your colleagues and friends. So, thank you all again so much for joining us. Have a great day.

JUAN MENG: Thank you.