2 Things I’ve Learned Volunteering In The Twin Cities PR BIPOC Career Explorer Program

Twin Cities PR BIPOC Career Explorer Program is a very long program title. But it does do a lot of heavy lifting. It is an externship program designed for BIPOC students interested in public relations and communications in the Twin Cities area. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for one of the six agency sponsors investing time and resources into the program, which started in September, and it has now reached the half-way point.

Here are the two takeaways from the program thus far:

  1. Showing up is easier than you think.
    • Prior to volunteering, I was concerned at first that I wouldn’t be able to put the time into the mentorship I wanted to, but I am so glad I didn’t let that deter me from showing up. My mentee and I now text regularly regarding job opportunities and my concerns of imposter-syndrome have quickly dissipated.
    • Takeaway: To tackle this problem, we need more colleagues to show up for BIPOC professionals whether inside or outside your office. McKinsey reports in a 2021 article that despite 87% of companies having a sponsorship program, only 23% of Black employees feel “a lot” or “quite a bit” of support at their company to advance. Ask yourself what does showing up for your BIPOC colleagues look like to reverse this reality?
  2. I don’t know a lot. But I do know people who do.
    • After listening and discussing the goals of the student I was paired with we decided to focus first on casting a wide net to learn about all the many career directions one can take within the malleable discipline of “strategy,” both within the PR agency world and beyond.
    • Through connections with friends as well as current and past co-workers we’ve set up phone calls to hear more about career paths both on the client and agency side.
    • Takeaway: Even if you aren’t an expert in a particular area, sharing your network with young BIPOC professionals is an easy, yet invaluable step to help address the talent pipeline issue supporting more BIPOC professionals find their passion and stay in the communications industry longer.

I recognize the irony of a white male writing on these issues and the biases I’m sure I don’t even see as I write these words. But that’s the point. It’s only through doing the work, putting in the time, and showing up that I can grow as an individual and give back to the communications industry… which still has a long way to go.

When we look at the most recent numbers for “Public relations specialists” from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (updated January 2020) it shows the industry as 83% white, 11% Black, 3% Asian, and 14% Hispanic. While this seems like progress compared to where this HBR article states numbers were in 2018 based on the same data; anyone within the industry knows there is far more to be done—regardless of whether these numbers are accurate—to address representation in leadership, pay equity, and the discrimination BIPOC colleagues face on a daily basis.

With these numbers so hard to track at a national level, it is largely up to agencies as individual entities to hold themselves accountable. And I see this externship program doing exactly that. It is one of the many reasons the team at Padilla has been shortlisted on PRWeek’s 2022 awards for Best in DE&I Transformation. I view this award as much as a recognition of the work that has been done in 2021 as it is a commitment to the long road ahead and the promise to make good on these learnings in 2022.

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