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Diversity and Mentors: PR Needs Both

PRSA St. Louis set out to have an open conversation on diversity and mentorship and how both make a difference in our careers as public relations professionals. We wanted to talk about diversity and inclusion in culture, gender, race and ethnicity. We wanted to know how having a mentor, or being a mentor, influences careers. We wanted to hear about personal experiences and get candid advice from people who have been there and are still guiding the way.

Diversity and Mentors: PR Needs Both, included a discussion with Gilbert Bailon, St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Johnny Little, eLittle Communications; Julie Hauser, The Hauser Group; Linda Lockhart, St. Louis Public Radio; Dr. Linda Sharpe-Taylor, Psychological Network; and Tim Lampley, NewsOne and ReVolt-TV.

So, how does diversity tie into mentorship? To keep it simple – they’re both about finding commonalities that connect you to another person. Your commonalities can be based on faith, culture, ethnicity, your career field, your personal interests or hobbies, and just about anything that you find in common with another person. For example “Oh, you’re a runner, too? Are you running the 5K at Forest Park this weekend?”

See? You’ve made a connection with someone based on a commonality.

There are different kinds of relationships between mentors. There are the more informal, like peer-to-peer, where you share ideas and learn from each other. There are the relationships of mentor-mentee that try to get you to your maximum potential. Bailon, Editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, “Someone told me I could be an editor.” It wasn’t something he’d considered for his career, but someone saw his potential.

No matter how the relationship between mentor and mentee starts, there should be a benefit for both of you.

In our field, diversity is relevant and necessary. The conversation included a few ‘firsts.’ Some panelists noted they the first minority in a newsroom or in a management role or at a firm. Some noted that they rarely have college-age interns who are minorities, and the question of why was left unanswered. It’s hard to realize that in our chosen profession, we’re still talking about firsts – first black, first female, first gay, first Hispanic...the list could go on. And it’s hard to understand why it’s still difficult for people of color to get a foot in the door. It shouldn’t be that way. We should see diversity and inclusion as a priority in every aspect of our field.

After he decided to leave his career in media to start his PR firm, Little, owner of eLittle Communications, noticed there weren’t many minority-owned PR companies. To influence change, he hires interns, gives advice and guidance to peers, and serves as a mentor.

“Don’t forget to look for someone you can mentor,” said Little.  

“There is no secret code for people of color,” said Bailon, speaking in reference to working with minorities. “You learn about someone’s skills and goals and then you help them succeed.”

On a personal note, my best mentors are the friends who talk me through situations or concerns and they’re people I’ve met through my career who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. They are the people who encourage you to keep trying and those who say “You got this!” I’ve never had to ask someone to be my mentor, and I’ve never formally given anyone the title of mentor, but there are many, many people of diverse backgrounds, experiences and cultures who have given me the guidance I need, and want, to be successful.

As Ms. Lockhart said plainly, yet eloquently, “You can never stop learning from people.”

See more photos from the event on our Facebook page.  

Nez Savala, APR, is the director of public relations for Confluence Charter Schools in St. Louis. She is a member of National School Public Relations Association and PRSA. You can find her on Twitter @NezSavala. 

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