The world of communications has made strides in diversity in the last twenty years. Women are directors, black women are highly regarded actresses, and transgender women are becoming more and more visible in mainstream media. While the front of the industry is making changes, the diversity is unmatched behind the scenes.
While women make up 60-80% of public relations professionals, men are still making more and are in higher positions of power. And while there aren’t any definitive statistics, the amount of people of color in the PR industry is basically nonexistent. Public relations is a very popular career, yet it severely lacks in diversity. Through my jobs, internships and classes, I have experienced this issue firsthand.
Let’s talk a bit about my university. As a PWI (Private White Institution), American University is a campus that still lacks diversity. While we have tons of programs that encourage and welcome diverse students (shout out to STEP ’12), non-POC classmates still have problems with treating their fellow students with respect. The Public Relations/Public Communication majors are almost completely made up of women, but the few male students feel entitled to the better internships, better project partners, and an overall better School of Communication experience. The amount of entitled rich white men from Westchester County I’ve encountered in my PR classes is albeit small, but their larger-than-life egos make up for the male-to-female ratio. Often times, I am one of none, or one of a few, people of color in my PR courses. Furthermore, I’m usually the only woman of color in my PR classes. Luckily, I’ve only experienced the “what would your people say about this?” comment from students once — but that’s one time too many.
My jobs and internships are no different. Besides the City of Los Angeles, who push for diverse employees, I have been the only person of color, or woman of color, in the office. At my first internship, I worked at a start-up run by two women and one man: yes, the man was white and had a larger stake in the company than his two female counterparts, and yes, I was the only person of color. Last fall, the PR firm I interned at was almost completely made up of (white) women, yet the four (white) men in the office all held VP or Partner positions in the company. Every female’s job title had the word “Associate” in front of it. When I interned in London, my internship office was completely made up of women (except for the venue’s sound technicians) and there were two other women of color as well.
Being a person of color, let alone woman of color, in a room full of white males is one of the most intimidating things I’ve ever experienced. Not only are you trying to defend yourself, but you’re trying to defend your entire race. You’ve suddenly become the Hispanic spokeswoman and everything is run by you to make sure “your people” won’t take offense. Your opinions — or lack thereof — on hot sauce are suddenly extremely important to your work ethic.
In both my classes and internships, I’ve also encountered the “wait, you’re not white???” talk. Countless times. Because my complexion does not match my Mexican American/Argentine immigrant background, most of my peers (and even my bosses) are shocked to learn that despite my light skin tone and (dyed) blonde hair, I am not actually white. My family did not come over on the Mayflower. I do not have a family crest, or motto, or a relation to Alexander Hamilton. When people find out I’m Latina for the first time, their first response questions my ability to speak Spanish: I speak it, I suck at it, I understand it, no, I will not tell you how to curse in Spanish. Once, at American, I was asked in a hushed tone if I was in the country legally. I’ve been asked to prove my ethnicity by reciting my family history in job interviews. I’ve been interviewed by all-male panels who think they can relate to me by discussing their favorite Latina stripper at their local strip club. I’ve been asked why I checked the “Latino/Hispanic” box when filling out my job’s demographics information.
Being a woman of color in the PR industry, let alone the U.S., is difficult. Being a woman of color surrounded by powerful white males is disconcerting. Being the only person of color in an office or a classroom makes me feel horrible. Knowing the statistics of diversity in America is a completely different feeling than actually living them in a meeting room with what seems like a thousand eyes on you asking for your opinion on Chipotle.
The field of communications is undergoing some massive changes. With more women and people of color in power, the multiple facets of communications (film, PR, journalism) can showcase our nation’s great diversity. While I’ve had some not-so-nice experiences in the PR industry, I still love it. I want to make a difference in the public relations world while representing my gender and race. One day, the people of color and women of color in the public relations field will be visible. Firms will be run completely by women and people of color will be so striking, executives won’t be able to ignore them.