18 Powerful Quotes from Diverse Voices

Cedric Brown Avatar


Recently, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Foundation announced its latest effort in its mission to promote diversity among PR professionals and companies. In its new book, Diverse Voices: Profiles in Leadership, the PRSA Foundation offers a collection of perspectives from 40 senior PR leaders representing diversity across gender, racial/ethnic, and orientation backgrounds. The PRSA Foundation plans to use the book to facilitate discussion events at colleges nationwide throughout the year.

I finished Diverse Voices for myself a couple of weeks ago and was enlightened to read about the problems PR faces in becoming a more diverse profession. However, I also came across some powerful advice that could be beneficial for any professional’s career development.

I’ve picked out 18 of my favorite quotes from the leaders profiled in Diverse Voices that best capture the essence of what it means to be a diverse professional—although I could easily include several more:

1. “When I was trying to break into the profession, there seemed to be a lot of opportunities that were of the “minority fellowship” variety. I rejected those opportunities because I didn’t want to be known as the minority candidate in the office. I wanted to be seen as a qualified individual. Organizations need to find a way to unearth those candidates without labeling them to check off that box.”

—Brenden Lee, Sports Partnership Communications, Twitter

2. “…just a few years ago, I received a phone call from the CEO of a top PR firm. ‘Hey, Mike, I just thought of something great, and I wanted you to know about it right away,’ he said. ‘We’re going to give a thousand-dollar scholarship to one of the HBCUs!’ A thousand dollars! They thought a thousand dollars was going to solve the whole diversity problem. I told him that won’t even pay for a meal plan for one semester… I even talked to some of the kids who received those scholarships. Many of them don’t even work in the profession anymore. They felt abandoned. They believed the rhetoric. And few people even followed up with them after they received the check. It was all about the person who wrote the laughably small check. Sadly, donations like these are not about the students. It was spin, a four-letter word for a reason.’

—Mike Paul, Reputation Doctor, LLC

3. “Diverse students tend to start out at a disadvantage immediately out of the gate. They don’t have the resources to spend their summers working at big city agencies and renting apartments in places like New York or Chicago. So instead of graduating with three or four agency internships under their belts, they’ll have three to four summers working at a fast-food restaurant or coffee shop—just to help pay their school tuition and living expenses. Even before they get started in their professional careers, the diverse kids have to struggle to catch up. They don’t get the advantages of having the real-world experience of an agency, and also miss out on the chance to make connections and begin building their professional networks.”

—Neil Foote, President and Chief Executive Officer, Foote Communications, LLC
Principal Lecturer, University of North Texas Mayborn School of Journalism

4. “As a professor, I often take my classes on field trips to agencies. We went to one large agency…(whose) people kept trying to engage with the one African-American student in the group. They seemed interested in talking to him about a job there. He pulled me aside during the tour and said, ‘…I would never work in a place like this. There’s nobody that looks like me here.’ And he didn’t want to be that sort of poster child, which was how they were making him feel.”

—Pallavi Kumar, Assistant Professor, American University School of Communication

5. “At every corporate or agency job I’ve had, I’ve always been the only one… So that ‘only’ aspect of it is a thing. When people interact with you as an ‘only,’ you can’t help but observe that being an ‘only’ makes you very noticeable. However, there’s another way of looking at the many times I was the ‘only.’ I also was the ‘first.’ If there’s a first, there can be a second and a third until we don’t need to count. But the ‘only’ aspect may be one of the reasons we have a retention issue. Also, having to be twice as good to get to the same place as a non-minority can be tiring.”

—Denise Hill, Assistant Professor of Communications, Elon University School of Communications

6. “When I first started the agency, I found that a lot of the organizations we were approaching, particularly in certain geographic areas, were not open to working with us. It was very challenging to convince people that we could offer something of value… During this period, there were a number of times when I strongly considered not making it known that I was the owner of the agency. I often wondered what would happen if, while I was out on a sales call, I represented myself working for the company versus being the owner. Would the conversations have gone differently?”

—Vanessa Wakeman, Founder an Chief Executive Officer, The Wakeman Agency

7. “More and more companies are mandating diverse representation on their account teams. And increasingly, request for proposals (RFPs) are requiring that information. It’s a business driven by billable hours, and sometimes the diversity piece, the multicultural piece of the RFP, is not the lion’s share of the assignment…and when it’s not…they bring out the ‘multicultural person.’ But then when it comes time to doing the assignment and having the hours assigned to that person, they don’t get it. It behooves clients to hold agencies responsible for that.”

—Helen Shelton, Senior Partner, Finn Partners

8. If you’re a Caucasian person, and want to understand what it feels like to be the only white person, show up at a Black church one day. Go to a soul food restaurant in a part of town you would normally never travel to. See how people look at you and see how you feel to be the only white person. And just try to authentically be yourself. And see if some of the things that happen to minorities end up happening to you.”

—Rochelle Ford, Dean, Elon University School of Communications

9. “Early in my career, I made sure I didn’t get stereotyped and pigeonholed into things that are just about diversity. I had to establish credibility on everyone else’s terms.”

—Michael Sneed, Executive Vice President – Global Corporate Affairs and Chief Communications Officer, Johnson & Johnson

10. “When people find out that you’re good at something, sometimes projects will find you. But you have to be able to articulate what it is that you bring to the table, and then seek to match that up. But don’t use labels like, ‘Well, I only do this or I do that,’ rather than, ‘Here are the skills I have. How can I apply those skills to different challenges that businesses or organizations might have?’”

—Damon Jones, Global Communications Executive and Reputation Strategist, P&G

11. “I’ve long believed that every hiring decision is a leap of faith. It doesn’t matter how many interviews you conduct or how much due diligence you put in or how many references you rely on. At the end of the day there is a gut call you’re making on an individual, diverse or otherwise. And you’re saying, ‘You know what? I’m going to go with this person because somehow I think it’s going to work.’ And sometimes that decision will work out fabulously well; sometimes maybe not so much. But there’s no getting around that.”

—Oscar Suris III, Former Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications, Wells Fargo

12. “Sometimes I remind myself of this parable when I’m dealing with my own employees: A mouse and an elephant are in the same room, and the mouse quickly learns that it has to understand how the elephant eats, when it eats, what it eats, when it sleeps, what happens to it when it gets upset. Does it move around? Does it stay still? The mouse needs to know everything about the elephant just to survive. On the other hand, the elephant is completely unaware—blithely unaware—that the mouse is even there, that the mouse is under all this pressure to survive or what is even important to the mouse and its survival in the room they share.”

—Andrew McCaskill, Senior Vice President of Global Communications, Nielsen

13. “…we need to be strategic, creative and intentional about nurturing mid-level and senior diverse talent. We must be vigilant about preventing vaguely defined notions of ‘cultural fit,’ unaligned with business goals, to impede embracing and developing multicultural professionals. We need to create equitable, inclusive environments that encourage people to bring their full selves to work and support the sense of belonging critical to retaining this essential cohort.”

—Judith Harrison, Senior Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion, Weber Shandwick

14. “… you create an environment, a culture, that brings out there best, not only from women and minorities, but from the quiet people, the loud people, the people who work and think and express themselves differently. This is the difference between representation and inclusion, and that’s another mountain we have yet to scale. But if you want to win, you have to be relentless about it, all of it.”

—Jon Iwata, Executive-in-Residence, Yale School of Management
Senior Advisor and Former Chief Brand Officer, IBM

15. “The moment that you feel like you’re welcome, contributing and creating value, that’s when the magic starts. That’s when we feel like we can make a career out of our job or a specific company. When we bring our whole self to work it benefits shareholders, leaders, colleagues and ourselves. It’s a win-win for everyone…”

—Lisa Chen, Head of Internal Communications, Distribution and Go-to-Market, Google Cloud, Google

16. “So I think if you’re a person of color and you’re trying to remain purely professional on the job, that is not a good strategy. We have to bring our whole selves into the workplace and be known for all of that richness and strength. That is our superpower!”

—Patrice Tanaka, Founder and Chief Joy Officer, Joyful Planet

17. “…when it comes to young diverse talent, we need them to be the owners of their career and not the victims. We need them to find mentors, not wait for someone in HR to assign one. And we need them to become masters of their craft. After that it comes back to my grandfather: Keep learning and never forget who you are and where you came from.”

—Mike Fernandez, Chief Executive Officer, Llorente y Cuence
Professor, Boston University

18. “If I could go back and tell my younger self what to say to the woman who implied I was more desirable on paper, I would answer, ‘That’s nothing compared to how much better I am in person!’”

—Sheryl Battles, Vice President, Communications and Diversity Strategy, Pitney Bowes

Diverse Voices is available through its website in paperback or digital form. You can also purchase it through Amazon in all formats. I’m looking forward to seeing how this book and the PRSA Foundation move the needle in creating a more diverse and inclusive profession.

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