Power goes beyond the color of someone's skin

PRWeek has received a number of comments, either directly or via our social media channels, about a perceived lack of diversity on our Power List this year, which I feel I need to address.

PRWeek has received a number of comments, either directly or via our social media channels, about a perceived lack of diversity on our Power List this year, which I feel I need to address.

The 2011 Power List was published in our July print issue and can be found here. Like all these initiatives, it is a subjective choice of those movers and shakers in our industry who myself and the rest of the editorial team feel wield most power.

And, like all these lists, we don't expect everyone to agree with our choices: we welcome the debate. If you asked 100 people in the industry for their nominations you'd likely get 100 different answers. There were many extremely powerful PR professionals who did not make it this year – that is the nature of these features.

This year, the list was expanded from 25 to 50 people for the first time, recognizing the growth in influence of PR and communications at the top level of organizations. 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.

Frankly, no one on any of our lists has ever been chosen because of the color of their skin, their gender, or their sexuality. People are chosen because of the power and influence they wield. 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. I haven't asked them personally, but I don't think they'd want it any other way.

It is our job to stimulate and lead debate in the industry about topical and fundamental issues, but we cannot change the face of an industry with a magic wand. I have to disagree with the likes of The Lagrant Foundation's Kim Hunter, who in a letter that will be published in full in August's PRWeek, characterizes the lack of African-Americans in The Power List as a “refusal to acknowledge the significant contributions of African-Americans in our industry.” I respect Kim's opinion immensely and he has always been a good friend of PRWeek, but I honestly feel that if we had put an African-American on the list this year it would have been solely to meet a self-imposed quota rather than on genuine merit compared to those who made the final cut. And no, Kim, I don't expect this blog will change your view either...!

That doesn't mean there are no powerful African-Americans in PR. Far from it. If you look at our PRWeek Awards judging panels year after year, you will see an extremely diverse group of people. We have featured Bill Whitman, then of McDonald's, and an African-American, on the cover of PRWeek. We have featured senior Hispanic PR pros such as Mike Fernandez and Tesla's Ricardo Reyes on our cover. All three of these were in the last 12 months.

But when a list only contains 50 people there are many powerful people of all ethnicities who are going to miss out.

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. None of these excellent candidates were chosen because of the color of their skin either, by the way. They were chosen because of their achievements in their careers in communications. 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 know people feel strongly about this, and I don't want to downplay the disappointment African-American PR pros feel at not being represented on the Power List. We certainly take the feedback on board and we will continue to give a high profile to the encouragement of diversity in our industry, which PRWeek has always done.

Whether through our Diversity Survey - which ran from 2006 until 2009 - the regular features that replaced the survey, our Diversity Roundtable last year, or the frequent and wide coverage we give to diversity on an ongoing basis, PRWeek will continue to lead the debate on this issue.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this, either with comments appended to the end of this article or on our Twitter feed.

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.

News by email...