Hua Jiang is lead researcher on study of diversity and inclusion at communications firms

June 21, 2016

The Newhouse study was conducted in partnership with the PRSA Foundation and the Plank Center for Leadership

A study conducted by the Newhouse School at Syracuse University finds that while communications professionals are dissatisfied with the level of diversity and inclusion at their organizations, few are being held accountable for developing and implementing strategies for improvement.

The study was funded and released by the PRSA Foundation and the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama.

Photo of Hua Jiang

Newhouse assistant professor of public relations Hua Jiang was the lead researcher on the study, which was based on a survey of members of the Arthur W. Page Society, an organization for senior public relations professionals.

“The survey and study found that all of the respondents have begun some programs to effect change, but those strategies tend to lack accountability for progress, have little measurement tied to them and therefore result in slow movement in achieving the corporate diversity and inclusion goals,” says Jiang.

About 64 percent of respondents reported that the CEO and other executives at their organizations place a very high level of importance on diversity and inclusion; however, 72 percent of those organizations do not tie diversity and inclusion goal achievement to executive compensation. Likewise, slightly more than half (58 percent) of all respondents said the communications leadership teams at their organizations place a very high level of importance on diversity and inclusion, while 86 percent of respondents reported that compensation for communications staff is not tied to diversity and inclusion goal achievement. 

Further, only 40 percent of respondents claimed that they have integrated a comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategy very well or completely well into their overall business strategy.

“If, as an industry, we are to meaningfully impact the issue of diversifying our organizations, public relations leaders must combine our public advocacy of diversity and inclusion with clear and measurable accountability for achieving those objectives,” said Torod B. Neptune, president of the PRSA Foundation and corporate vice president, corporate communications at Verizon Communications.

The majority of the Page Society members surveyed say their companies do have diversity and inclusion goals and objectives that fit well with corporate character and mission. Those Page member organizations that seem to be making the most progress toward achieving these goals have strong leadership support and commitment.

The study identified best practices, including:

  • Leadership support of proactive recruitment strategies with ethnically diverse universities and professional associations;
  • Dedicated focus on employee engagement, using grassroots, corporate-funded affinity and employee resource groups; and
  • Two-directional reaffirmation of skills and abilities to help with retention of talent.

“The findings of this study are aimed at helping public relations leaders build upon best practices in our field as well as in other industries,” says Karla Gower, executive director of the Plank Center. “We recognize that some industries might be ahead of our field in effecting change in this space.”

The PRSA Foundation, the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, Syracuse University and the Arthur W. Page Society provided financial and in-kind support for the completion of the study.