Both scholars and academics over the years have documented the difficulties practitioners of color have encountered in the public relations profession. Of the studies completed, all indicate disparities between the treatment of practitioners of color and non-minority practitioners. Differences include monetary gain, job advancement opportunities, job functions and perceived roles. For example, Marilyn Kern-Foxworth(1) found that minority middle-level public relations managers were making roughly $15,983 less annually than their white counterparts. Zerbinos & Clanton(2) found that while practitioners of color were satisfied with their jobs, a substantial number felt their careers were hindered because of their race. Layton(3) suggests that public relations agencies are uneasy about matching people of color with white clients and that the public relations profession has a long way to go to lose its nickname as "the last of the lily-white professions."
Most scholarship on people of color in public relations is based on surveys of minority professionals. This study is one of the first to use in-depth interviews to examine the current status of practitioners of color, their jobs and their roles in the organizations where they work. This study is intended to identify areas of concern for scholars and practitioners by exploring the status of practitioners of color and by identifying areas for future investigation.
This examination provides insight into why discrimination is perceived by practitioners as annoying in its least threatening form or downright restricting and detrimental to their careers in the most extreme cases. based on the practitioner's point of view, we can determine how to remove these barriers and better train public relations managers to be aware of the complex dynamics involved in public relations management decisions.
People of Color in Public Relations
Few studies have been conducted specifically on ethnic minorities and the public relations profession. Included here is a brief cross-section of literature across communication disciplines providing information supporting the need for research in this area.
Enumerated data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 1990 census indicates that by Oct. 1, 1997, people of color made up 27.4 percent of the U.S. population.(4) The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the U.S. labor force will be 27.3 percent ethnic minority by the year 2006.(5)
Labor statistics from 1987 reveal that minorities comprise 7.3 percent of the public relations work force while 21 percent of the U.S. work force is part of a minority group.(6) In public relations, African Americans and Hispanics hold about 6 percent and 2 percent of public relations jobs, respectively. Federal statistics show these percentages have remained constant since 1984.(7) Yet, employment projections estimate that between 1996 and the year 2006, management and public relations job opportunities will increase by 60 percent.(8)
Kern-Foxworth(9) has found that many minority practitioners are hired only to deal with same minority publics or are perceived to be just filling a quota requirement. In another study, Kern-Foxworth(10) surveyed 196 minority public relations professionals and found support for the premise that larger organizations did not allow minorities the opportunity to advance in their careers and that they were paid lower salaries than their non-minority colleagues.
In addition, a survey of 140 public relations practitioners by Zerbinos and Clanton(11) indicated that over half of their respondents felt they were denied promotion during their careers because of their race. Forty-four percent stated that they were denied access to a client because of their race. A more recent study conducted by Kern-Foxworth, Gandy, Hines and Miller(12) on managerial roles of black female public relations practitioners in Washington, DC indicates a rosier picture. Results from 54 questionnaires showed that black women at managerial levels in public relations identified themselves as occupying "meaningful roles within the profession and interface quite frequently with management."
Examining other communication professions where people of color have been traditionally underrepresented, a 1993 study conducted by the RTNDA Communicator(13) found journalists of color headed 9 percent of television and 7 percent of radio news operations. This was the same as 1992. It also revealed that 37 percent of African American and 14 percent of Hispanic news personnel reported that race had hurt their careers. Conversely, the study also reported that whites said race had hurt their careers due to reverse racism.(14) Shafer(15) interviewed 44 African American members of the National Association of Black Journalists and 28 members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and formed the following categories based on their responses: Pigeonholing, tokenism, performance to a higher standard, and cultural alienation and isolation.
Pigeonholing meant being relegated to cover those stories that primarily dealt with minority issues, and in the case of some Hispanic reporters, playing the role of translator. Tokenism meant falling racial or ethnic slots, and performance to a higher standard was related to having to prove oneself as a professional equal within the newsroom. Hispanics reported more cultural alienation and isolation. This was defined as being left out of the social scene at the office.
Modern or Symbolic Racism and Stereotyping
Possible explanations for these findings may be symbolic racism and/or stereotyping the roles of practitioners of color. McConahay(16) has laid out five principle tenets of modern racism:
1. Discrimination is a thing of the past because blacks now have the freedom to compete in the marketplace and enjoy those things they can afford.
2. Blacks are pushing too hard, too fast and into places where they are not wanted.
3.These tactics and demands are not fair.
4. Therefore, the recent gains are undeserved and the prestige granting institutions of society are giving blacks more attention and concomitant status than they deserve.
5. Racism is bad and the other beliefs do not constitute racism because these beliefs are empirical facts.
In contrast to old-fashioned racism, modern racism is not rooted in personal experience or competition with blacks (or those from other minority groups), but is "rooted in the abstract principles of justice and negative feelings acquired in early political and racial socialization."(17)
As well as facing symbolic racism, practitioners also may encounter stereotyping. Devine(18) suggests that stereotypes are automatically activated - inescapable and often unintentional - "when in the presence of a member (or symbolic equivalent)" of a stereotyped group. When a person does not consciously hamper stereotype activation, both high- and low-prejudice people produce prejudiced responses. This "automatic response" may account for why minority public relations practitioners are sometimes not chosen to work on certain "mainstream" accounts. Management may be concerned with the automatic response of the client which is not necessarily a voluntary response.
The method used for this research was 13 in-depth interviews conducted in person, via telephone and via fax. Only minority practitioners were interviewed in an effort to examine the experiences and perspectives of groups that have habitually been ignored in the public relations field.(19)
In-person interviews were limited to the city of Atlanta due to cost constraints and a desire to conduct interviews in person. Telephone interviews were conducted with practitioners of color in the San Francisco, CA; Chicago, IL; Minneapolis, MN; Washington, DC; and Jefferson City, MO. Two practitioners (Minneapolis, MN, and Cleveland, OH) were unable to schedule telephone interviews and were faxed the interview questions and returned written responses to the questions. The names of the interviewees have been changed to protect their privacy.
This study is an expansion of part of a larger study on public relations campaigns that targeted minority audiences.
Interviewees were told the nature of the study in the initial contact to improve the quality of the data.(20) The researcher identified herself as a minority to reduce interviewee anxiety.(21) The average interview length was between an hour and an hour and a half.
The sample was a purposive sample allowing for selection of practitioners from varied …