PRSA NJ Virtual Webinar Series Explores

Steps to Diversity in the PR Industry

In response to this year’s national crisis over long-standing issues of race, gender and inequality, PRSA NJ has partnered with the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance to offer a series of five one-hour webinars advocating greater diversity and inclusion within the PR/Communications sector and beyond.

These online “Courageous Conversations” seek to uncover the unconscious biases and practices that communication professionals of all backgrounds bring to their workplaces and communities. The sessions, which have already attracted hundreds of participants, encourage expert speakers and diverse audiences open themselves to a wide range of new perspectives.

Here are highlights of the first two programs, held in August and September.



Link to Video:

L-R: Jemia Kinsey Singleton; Deirdre Lopian

PRSA NJ President-Elect Jemia Kinsey Singleton (Kinsey Communications) and Moderator Deirdre Lopian (Deirdre Lopian Public Relations) told the virtual audience of PR professionals that the goal of the series was not only to take a closer look at diversity issues but to translate what they learn into specific action steps.

They were joined by panelists Derek Ross (Let’s Work), Candy Barone (You Empowered Strong) and Judith Mystila (NJ Transit).

A number of hot-button issues emerged.

Definition of “Privilege”

  • Gaining unearned power based on other people’s gender, age, race, orientation, etc.
  • Marginalizing others, although all people find they have advantages in some ways — but not in many others.
  • Gaining special influence in a workplace setting due to a high level position, but failing to use that greater visibility and power to take more responsibility for others … and to actively resist injustice on the job.

Derek D. Ross, credit:

Misperceptions of Privilege

  • Must recognize that lower level employees can also gain privilege in the workplace due to special knowledge, experience or access within the organization.
  • Many people sincerely wish to do “the right thing,” but lack the tools they need to advance others and themselves.
  • Continuous, long-term efforts are required to raise awareness of workplace privilege, and to generate more empathy among diverse staff at all levels.

Taking Action

  • Encourage collective action to identify and address current bias.
  • Begin with a small circle of colleagues and reach out to more like-minded contacts seeking change at the top.
  • Ensure that top managers call out abusive supervisors or co-workers — without exception – or risk losing the organization’s best performers.
  • Respond to abuses promptly and openly.
  • Hold leaders accountable for speaking up and actively supporting improvements in the workplace’s culture.
  • Don’t limit empathy to senior staff; remember support staff as well.
  • Thank — rather than penalize — staff who raise new ideas or concerns.
  • Make sure all voices at the table have an opportunity to be heard.
  • Use the privilege you have to raise critical issues.

L-R: Judith Mystila; Candy Barone, credit:



Link to Video:

Jemia Kinsey Singleton joined Moderator Alicia Rodgers Alston (Prudential), Pat Ford (Diversity Action Alliance) and Denice Torres (The Ignited Company) to discuss ways that traditionally privileged organizations can forge productive partnerships with marginalized groups.

Alicia Rodgers Alston

What is an Ally?

  • A reliable ally is a group that takes meaningful action in support of disadvantaged people, rather than simply saying they care. They must recognize that the real work means producing positive outcomes.
  • It is not enough to be an “interested observer.” An ally takes some level of responsibility for getting things done and actively demonstrating a commitment to their partners.
  • An ally looks for ways to uplift their partners, not to advance their own self-interest. They are willing to work hard and make sacrifices for others.


    Pat Ford

How Can an Ally Help?

  • By listening, learning and empathizing with others.
  • By not claiming to “understand” the feelings and experiences of people who have personally faced extensive mistreatment and injustice over many years.
  • Seek to learn more about what you don’t Ask questions.
  • Convert what you learn into specific actions that may address some of the partner’s greatest challenges.
  • Be authentic; offer consistent support rather than demanding control.
  • Don’t talk AT people.
  • Speak up in support of your partners; do not operate behind the scenes as a silent partner.
  • Demonstrate trust and vulnerability. Be open to new perspectives and insights.

How Has the Role of Ally Changed In Recent Years?

  • More senior leaders and managers are more willing to take action to assist marginalized groups. They recognize that more must be done than
  • Mentorship has grown and can have a significant long-term impact.
  • Internships can also benefit individuals who have not had access to professional networks and contacts in the past.
  • More people recognize that inclusion is essential to successful diversity initiatives. Without meaningful inclusion from the start, diversity efforts don’t stand a chance.
  • More employees pay attention to how seriously employers take their pledges of support to outside groups.

Where Can New Allies Be Found?

  • Valuable allies are found at all levels an organization, depending on their particular strengths and specific knowledge. However, support from upper management is always important.
  • New sponsors within a community may respond …if an Ally commits to actively seeking them out first and engaging their interest.
  • New allies are more likely to respond to very specific requests for help than to broad, unclear proposals. They need to see clearly how their involvement in a project could make a difference.

Denice Torres
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