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I confess

10 Aug

Cocktail lifestyle. Picture by @dubaipartyqueen on Instagram

I’m a male, middle-aged, middle-class university lecturer. There, I said it.

My students and graduates are overwhelmingly young, white and female. They jog, do yoga and enjoy beach holidays and smart hotels according to their Instagram feeds. In other words, they lead affluent and aspirational lifestyles.

And there’s nothing wrong with this: we are what we are. We either have no choice, or we have made choices that seem rational to us.

Except, so far so conventional.

Do our worldviews present a norm that excludes others? Lecturers might scoff at the popular perception of public relations as a glamorous, party-going practice – but it only seems to attract new generations of young women called Kate. Or Victoria. Or Olivia.

You get the picture. Success for some could mean lack of opportunity for others.

My British Asian students tell me that public relations is not viewed like medicine or the law or accountancy. For their families, it’s not a profession to aspire to.

Of course there are outliers. We have role models like Colleen Harris and Yasmin Diamond. But these individual success stories are not typical products of mass higher education.

We need to recruit more widely onto university courses and the profession needs to recruit more widely and sensitively. Age, gender, ethnicity are all problems: in a word, diversity.

But everyone knows this. The question is, who’s doing anything about it? What can I do?

The indefatigable Stephen Waddington and the admirable Sarah Stimson are campaigning to raise funds for the Taylor Bennett Foundation, which has a track record of action in this area.

I’ve pledged my support. Will you do too?

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Is there a PR personality?

18 Mar

Warning: this post contains generalisations. But remember that theories are abstractions (ie generalisations) based on evidence such as observation.

I fear that we are producing too much convergent thinking. There have always been social pressures to conform in any society – but the world of Facebook likes and Twitter retweets echoes and amplifies this tendency to converge on campaigns, communities and conversations where people can share common ground.

Public relations by its nature seeks consensus – and public relations practitioners will tend therefore to be more conventional than average. This tendency is pronounced among in-house practitioners who must be organisation men and women.

This works well in the good times. But what about in uncertain, unpredictable times? Where are the warning voices? Where is the encouragement of divergent thinking?

Where will the fresh ideas come from if we're all of a similar age, ethnicity, educational background and gender, sharing similar interests? Who will be able to warn of dangers ahead?

We're far enough into the year to know that this will be one of those milestones in history: 1848, 1989, 2011. The tectonic plates have literally shifted. These are uncertain times; there are many risks ahead.

We need to encourage diversity in its true meaning – and bring in fresher thinking from different disciplines and perspectives. There's more to the diversity debate than class, gender, age and ethnicity.