‘PRWeek’ Catches Heat for Lack of Diversity on its Power List

PRWeek‘s editor-in-chief Steve Barrett has published a column on the publication’s website in response to “a number of comments” they’ve gotten about the lack of diversity on this year’s Power List, specifically, the lack of African Americans.

“This can either be attributed to the careless omission or oversight by PRWeek‘s selection committee or that African American power players are hiding in plain sight. Either way, the list makes it seem as if there are NO African Americans making moves in the PR industry and that is simply not true,” Sakita Holley, CEO of the firm House of Successtold us in an email.

The list, which features 50 publicists this year rather than 25 like prior years, was printed in this month’s hard copy of the magazine and online. According to Barrett’s column, “In this year’s Power List, Oscar Suris, Mike Fernandez, Jon Iwata, and Selim Bingol were not chosen because of their ethnicity or the color of their skin – they were chosen because of their ability and the senior levels to which they have risen in the communications industry in their respective roles.”

Before we even get into the issues with the list, let’s start with the condescending tone of this column.

Barrett also writes, “The good news is that if you look at our 40 Under 40 feature this year, which will be published in our August print issue and available online on the first of next month, you will see it contains four African-Americans… Hopefully some of them, and similarly diverse candidates on previous 40 Under 40 lists, will gravitate to The Power List sooner rather than later.”

I’m sure all the “diverse candidates” are keeping their fingers crossed, Steve. Because that’s what everyone seeking a PR career really wants. To have the PRWeek seal of approval, stating that they have power.

But since PRWeek has added 25 names to the list this year and still can’t manage to find more than a handful of “diverse candidates” to highlight, these 40 Under 40 wannabes might be waiting a long time to feel the gravitational pull.

So how does one make it to the list? The column is vague about that.

“It unashamedly focuses on the top corporations and PR agencies for the most part, on the grounds that this is where most of the money comes from and, therefore, where most of the power lies. I know money does not exclusively define power, but it sure plays a big role in it,” it says. Barrett also writes that the Power List is based on subjective judgment, but there must’ve been some quantitative (other than money) or qualitative factors that were used to determine who made it and who didn’t. So what are they?

If you’re going to look at who’s making an impact at this moment, diversity of all kinds — diversity of lifestyle, cultural diversity, racial diversity, even diversity of practice area — comes into play. In the past six months or so, I’ve attended a number of happenings around town (a few specifically about multicultural PR and the people who are involved with it) and PR practitioners of all shades and backgrounds were represented at all of these events. Diverse PR pros are changing the way that business is done in this industry and others. And they’re making their expertise known. That’s power.

We agree that skin color shouldn’t be a determining factor. And certainly, we’re not saying that any one person should’ve been included or excluded. But this list, even though it’s longer, is still incomplete.