Focusing on Diversity as the Next Tech PR Innovation

Guest post by Caroline Kawashima of Babel PR.

This is a guest post by Caroline Kawashima, EVP and head of U.S. operations for San Francisco’s Babel PR.

During the first-ever White House Demo Day, President Obama announced a new push to increase diversity in the technology sector that included commitments by some of the leading names in Silicon Valley to focus on hiring and promoting more women and minorities. Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, Dropbox, Uber and Airbnb are just some of the companies that have a lackluster record for diversity hiring and are now feeling the pressure to focus on new practices that will reduce “unconscious biases” and increase the percentage of women and minority employees.

The lack of diversity in Silicon Valley is concerning – a workforce issue brought to the forefront with the recent results of diversity hire reports showing that the tech sector’s largest companies have done little to improve their diversity over the last year.

In 2014 including Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn reported that Silicon Valley is largely male (70 percent) and white (55 percent) with the largest ethnic group (Asians) only comprising 15 percent.

Little has changed since, with Facebook announcing the share of Hispanic employees in the United States remained at 4 percent, just as it did for black employees at 2 percent. The same thing is the case with Google – whose employee base has stayed at 60 percent white and 31 percent Asian, with black employees making up 2 percent and Hispanics 3 percent since the 2014 report.

The Kapor Center for Social Impact reports similar numbers and points out that in terms of academic achievement our schools are failing us – only nine percent of all science and engineering degrees are awarded to Black and Hispanic students (2009) and at the high school level, only 1.3 percent of all computer science AP test takers are Black and Hispanic (2013). When you consider that Millennials are quickly becoming the largest generation in the workplace, with nearly 40 percent representing at least one racial or ethnic group (Black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American) and of which 20 percent are immigrants or children of immigrants, the face of America is quickly becoming one of the most racially and ethnically diverse populations.

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This is the next generation of workers and leaders that will fuel tech, business and government—but are we prepared?

The PR industry, sadly, has fared no better.  PRWeek recently surveyed leaders from some of the largest agencies and found that there is a long way to go before PR reflects the level of diversity it should have. Similarly, The Guardian reported that according to the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), only eight percent of PR practitioners in the U.K. are from ethnic minority backgrounds.  Here in the U.S., the lack of diversity in a profession that is primarily white and male at the executive levels despite having a workforce that is predominantly female has been called “PR’s dirty little secret.”

Fourteen years ago, I remember sitting at a worldwide agency conference at a top ten agency listening to The Holmes Report Founder Paul Holmes urging the industry to increase its diversity hiring.  While certainly a lot of important and meaningful work has been conducted to address this issue at many top PR agencies, with a marked improvement in advancing women into executive leadership positions and increased hiring of staff from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, much more work is needed.

A recent research study by PRSA hoped to uncover how Millennials perceive diversity within their PR firm, and what leaders could do to promote a more diverse environment. The findings concluded hiring diversely at the executive level, mentorship, creating a culture club, encouraging the acceptance of different ethnicities through micro-affirmations like trying food from ethnic restaurants when ordering in and ensuring equal workloads regardless of identity markers.

As the new head of Babel PR’s U.S. operations in San Francisco, I am fortunate in being able to work in one of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities in the world.  I am surrounded by cultural diversity and believe that companies should be culturally sensitive to the local communities in which they do business.  For starters, I am working with one of our Latina managers to develop an internship program targeting local schools in our area and I am forming a local PR industry meet-up comprised of diverse leaders that will get this discussion going – will you join me?

Our client makeup in tech is quickly changing and in a short order of time will become increasingly diverse.  I believe the next innovation in tech PR must be human-focused, only then will we see a cultural renaissance that will result in truly amazing technological accomplishments fueled by human innovation.

I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts on improving diversity in tech PR. Message me on Twitter or reach out to me via LinkedIn.

caroline kawashimaCaroline Kawashima is executive vice president and head of U.S. operations for Babel PR in San Francisco. She is a PR industry veteran with more than 20 years experience counseling CXOs, founders and entrepreneurs on corporate branding, executive visibility and thought leadership and integrated communications strategy for U.S. and international markets.