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Why #BlackGirlMagic Is More Relevant Than Ever

The gap in management, representation and compensation leaves room for the PR industry to champion African-American women leaders

BlackGirlMagic in PR - Aerial Ellis ColorComm Nielsen AWFAW PRSA

The evidence is real. #BlackGirlMagic isn’t just a trending hashtag or catchphrase, it’s a real-time, quantifiable illustration of how the consumer preferences and brand affinities of African-American women are resonating across the U.S. According to African-American Women: Our Science, Her Magic, a new report by Nielsen, African-American women are driving total Black spending power toward a record $1.5 trillion by 2021. Insights reveal that we have enjoyed steady growth in population, incomes, and educational attainment. This rise in influence and buying power as consumers is a result of our increased success in business and our careers.

But, another stat is much less impressive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016) reported that below 4 percent of women employed in public relations were African American (women overall make up about 70 percent of the industry). With all of our magical abilities to drive product categories and shift culture as trendsetters, brand loyalists and early adopters, there’s no reason more of us shouldn’t be leading in brands and agencies as decision makers. Make no mistake – we are here, and have been here for decades – but the gap in management, representation and compensation for African-American women leaders in the public relations industry must lessen as we’ve further proven our power and influence.

Here’s how we champion “Black Girl Magic” in the PR industry:

African-American women are best at creating and cultivating community.

Our magic is made tangible when we establish opportunities for dialogue and work to make industry diversity actionable and accountable. Such efforts like the E3 Task Force, a nationwide agency diversity effort led by Edelman’s DC President Lisa Osborne Ross, empower diverse candidates to elevate their voices and emerge as leaders.

BlackGirlMagic Aerial Ellis Nielsen PRSA ColorComm

Credit: ColorComm 2016 C2 Conference

With the ColorComm (C2) Conference in Miami as the catalyst for the conversation, the task force went to work forming a quantitative study and hosting listening sessions, with mostly women of color in the communications industry across eight U.S. markets, to assess the barriers and dismantle the roadblocks to leadership. Similarly in advertising and marketing, there are still very few women of color in creative leadership roles.

BlackGirlMagic Aerial Ellis PRSA ColorComm AWFAW Nielsen

Credit: bohan Advertising

Ad Women For All Women, a program created and hosted by bohan, an independent, full-service advertising and marketing agency, introduces young women in high school and college to the opportunities available in advertising. The AWFAW program focuses on women and women of color specifically, but is part of a commitment to diversity and inclusion in a broad sense as well. Each effort, and so many others, indicates where we want to be and how we are willing to help one other get there.

 African-American women show a desire to lead and an ability to drive revenue.

Our magic is obvious as the Nielsen study reveals that 64 percent of black women agree their goal is to make it to the top of their profession. The study also reports that Black female entrepreneurs have grown by 67 percent within five years, totaling more than 1.5 million businesses with over $42 billion in sales and $7.7 billion in payroll. This kind of ingenuity is worth acknowledging and forces a response by placing more African-American women in PR leadership roles. Yet, in a survey of 51 agencies in North America, the Holmes Report and Ketchum Global Research & Analytics reported that women of color made $10,000 less than white women in public relations. This leads to the progression of African-American women opting out of agency life to create their own businesses or to leave the industry altogether. This is a clear sign of industry leadership passing on the untapped potential of ambitious African-American women, lagging on developing an organizational culture of inclusion and equity, and overlooking the intrinsic value we hold for leveraging business savvy for greater profits.

African-American women maintain a unique cultural capital.

Our magic is limitless as mainstream culture looks to us for trends and patterns. In most product categories, African-American women over-index against non-Hispanic white women for dollars per buyer and buying power, according to Nielsen. Also, 86 percent admitted to spending 5 or more hours each day on online/mobile platforms for consumer engagement activities and social media movements. As African-American women, our spending, watching, and listening habits are mirrored by other women and shape the way women of all ethnicities see themselves, states the report. While the behaviors, values and purchasing patters of African-American women have been long studied by corporations, our recent influence is proving that the cultural capital we embody has the power to extend beyond contributing a consumer point of view to now reaching leadership with a seat at the table in order to meet industry demands and address PR’s diversity deficit.

It’s confirmed. We are magic.

BlackGirlMagic in PR - Aerial Ellis ColorComm Nielsen AWFAW PRSA

 

We are an undeniable force as women influencers in public relations, as well as marketing, advertising and digital. Our position as creators, decision makers and game changers is indefinite, and will secure our presence as levelers in the future.

If the rest of the world is taking notice and recognizing “Black Girl Magic,” the public relations industry should be our greatest advocate.

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Beyond the Buzzword: How to Talk about Diversity

Diversity has become a topic that everyone seems to want to talk about.

Now, in the second decade of the new millennium, the business case for practicing diversity and inclusion has been made a priority, as concern for race, age and gender expands to include diversity of culture, thought and lifestyle. This evolution has shown that the language of diversity is fluid and somewhat uncertain, and yet it contains fundamentals for the future.

While the importance of diversity has increased in recent decades, progress in the corporate world has been slower. “Diversity” has become a buzzword. The way we communicate the idea often makes diversity a novelty that we like to mention, rather than spending time determining how it should play out in organizations and in the world around us.

As the work of diversity and inclusion grows in demand, the PR profession has an opportunity to lead the language so that other industries can talk about this function with greater cultural competency. Here are a few simple ways to reframe how we talk about diversity:

Understand that diversity does not mean non-white

When we hear the word “diversity,” we tend to think that it means race, specifically people who are not Caucasian. Instead, we must define diversity as the measure or variation of social and cultural identities among people who exist together in a particular setting.

To go beyond the buzzword and arrive at authentic cross-cultural experiences, people of all races, ethnicities, ages, religions and backgrounds need to participate in building organizational cultures. On the other hand, relying solely on non-white employees to lead diversity efforts — or devaluing the realities of their societal experiences — allows us to sidestep persistent inequalities and to overlook opportunities to enhance our cultural competencies. 

Stop calling people ‘diverse’

Individuals add diversity to groups and should not be labeled as “diverse” for the sake of representation. One could argue that a statement such as “We need more diverse candidates” is a matter of semantics, but it obscures our understanding of diversity. Using the term this way depersonalizes people as “other” in an attempt to meet a socially acceptable goal, without naming the specific kind of person needed for the goal to be met. If one person fits the distinction, does that make the group diverse? Or if a group only has Latinas, for instance, is it diverse? It’s easy to measure diversity by headcount, but inclusion means understanding people’s narratives along with their numbers.

Using “diversity” as a catchall reinforces wrong meaning. Specifically naming the groups we’re talking about — based on characteristics such as LGBTQ, age, race or nationality — sets a tone for belonging, and prevents diversity from erasing the distinctions that make it necessary in the first place.

Prepare for the emerging majority

“Minority” has long been the default descriptor for people of color. But with the United States poised to become a minority-majority country by the year 2040, the shift will reshape the language of our industry and perhaps create a stronger filter for senior leaders and decision-makers responsible for navigating organizational cultures. 

Some believe that adding cultural differences creates a competitive advantage. Instead of seeing the focus on differences as divisive, we can leverage commonalities to spark future initiatives.

Treated as a buzzword, diversity becomes so diluted that it can be a code for anything we want it to represent. Even well-intended diversity efforts leave us without an understandable language. Changing the words and phrases we use to describe one another reflects progress toward a world in which everyone feels respected and included.

Some see diversity as a convenient solution to new racial and ethnic challenges, which becomes synonymous with a profit imperative. Appealing to diversity can unite people across differences that divide us and affirm a shared, self-reinforcing commitment to one another.

The PR/communications profession influences all areas of business and how language and perception are reshaped. When we grapple with how to discuss diversity and inclusion efforts, and look at how public perceptions will change, our profession can help lessen the misunderstandings and miscommunications that occur in the global workforce by listening actively, choosing words carefully and showing respect for others.

This article was originally posted at PRSAY. In August, PRSA is celebrating Diversity Month by focusing on the diverse communities, people and practices that comprise public relations. The Diversity & Inclusion Committee and other PR thought leaders offer their insights on the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace. Join the discussion by following @PRSADiversity and using #PRSADiversity in your social media posts.

What Makes A Millennial “Original”

Many headlines seem to focus on the idea that millennials are not poised to lead. We are incompetent, shiftless and noncommittal. We show up late. We act entitled. We demand more than we earn.

It’s been six months since I released my book, The Original Millennial: Lessons in Leadership for the Millennial Generation. The reception has been fantastic, though not without questions.

“So is the book only for millennials?”

“So are you saying only millennials can be ‘original’?”

“What about Gen X? And the Baby Boomers? You left us out?”

No, no and no.

While millennials have a series of subgroups divided by the factors of age and socioeconomic background, originality is not a concept that refers to demographics as descriptors for millennials. It’s true that the entrepreneurial members of the older-millennial subset are altogether reinventing the planet and the younger subset is revitalizing organizations with an intrapraneurial excitement that is reinventing the workforce.

We understand why there is a great deal of variation from one individual millennial to another, more than within any other generational cohort, when we understand who our parents are. The differences between baby boomer and Gen X-er parents are the most critical reason millennials are so diversely defined yet grossly misunderstood.

A 33-year old millennial remembers using dial-up internet access to log on to the first version of Facebook, while a 23-year old millennial has likely never used Facebook without a high speed mobile or Wi-Fi connection. Those are major moments in the social development of millennials that are not to be ignored. However, the term “original” in this book will not be used to separate millennials by younger and older subsets.The Original Millennial at coffee shop - author Aerial Ellis

The millennial generation continues to have a major influence on almost every aspect of our lives, including how we communicate and use technology. Millennials have affected changes in parenting practices, educational and career choices and sparked shifts in homeownership and family life. These developments have inspired much speculation about how this generation will fare later in life, and whether these trends are temporary or permanent (TCEA, 2014).

The driving force behind the potential greatness within the millennial generation is originality. We got here with so much originality that we were ready to take on a world that wasn’t making room for us.

We get distracted because we switch devices 27 times an hour. It may look like we don’t know where we’re going with our eyes glued to the screen and our fingers scrolling down the side. But we keep original ideas flowinThe Original Millennial switching devices - Author Aerial Ellisg from the sources found in the platforms we surf.

We thrive on original experiences and relationships. We are cautious and loyal. We often think the media are biased and can quickly perceive fakeness in human interaction.

We must have original conversations that happen in a meaningful, sincere way. We back brands. It gives us a sense of ownership and makes us feel like we contribute to the growth and prominence of those businesses.The Original Millennial tech coding

We may look up to Mark Zuckerberg, Jay-Z and Steve Jobs for their originality, but our favorite mentors and models for inspiration are our fellow millennials.

Why is this? Because originality can sometimes be at odds with the source. The best parts of original millennials are found in the choice to change and evolve. The original qualities of past generations use commonly understood behavior patterns, which make them far easier to define, whereas original millennials have the ability to defy category.

For the millennial generation, originality is the most important trait because it positions how we think, feel, work and lead. The power of originality becomes most valuable when used in the pursuit of solutions. Millennials always look for ways to make things greater, bigger, better, stronger and more practical.

Across society, there’s enough division between cultural groups including generations – so much so that our thoughts take us instantly to a detection of bias, which is great in order for us acknowledge if and how bias exists.

Calling a millennial “original” not about pointing out our intergenerational differences. It’s about uplifting a generation by harnessing the original qualities we possess. The distinction of original is applied to the approach millennials bring to life; how we marry vision and values; how we merge creativity with cause and how we make real challenges look remarkably cool. Originality is the prime possession that makes the difference.

That’s all.

Read the book for yourself and you be the judge. What makes a millennial “original?”

*This post includes an excerpt from The Original Millennial: Lessons in Leadership for the Millennial Generation.*

It’s Complicated: Explaining The Role of Race in Police Brutality

*I originally published this in June 2015. In wake of more deaths approximately one year later, I am sharing this again…today.*

 

I’ve opened the past two semesters talking about police brutality on the first day of class in my Cross-Cultural Communication course at Lipscomb University. This is a required course for communication and journalism majors to grasp the challenges of communicating in today’s complex society so we go there and get pretty deep. Building communication strategies to address obstacles and opportunities within a client’s organizational culture is something I know very well but grappling with the thorny issues of our times with a room full of college students means I must dig deep and go all the way. There are a wealth of topics I could start the semester with instead but it just so happens the biggest story in the news at the time concerned violence, race and injustice – in fall we dealt with cases of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, and in spring, the cases of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray. It looks as if perhaps this coming fall in August I will unfortunately and again have new content on the same topic – now with the incident in Mckinney, Texas and who knows what else between now and then.

For all of these tragic instances, a firestorm of commentary and disagreement ensued across news media and social media, and protests arose all over the world. Some students wonder how this could happen in the United States. For others, unfortunately, police brutality and discrimination are all too familiar. Yet for a large majority of my students at our private, Christian, predominately white University, police brutality and the racial disparities that accompany the topic are foreign concepts. They are often confused but curious and compassionate in their attempt to make sense of tough issues that even us mature adults struggle to comprehend. Naturally, they are faced with anger, frustration, sadness, disbelief and lots of questions.

“The victim had to be doing something wrong, right Professor Ellis? Wouldn’t the news media tell us if something was done unfairly?”

“Professor Ellis, wasn’t this an issue during segregation? Why are we seeing so much about it today?”

“But Professor Ellis, does this mean most cops are racist or that we should fear them?”

“So Professor Ellis, how do we fix stuff like this?”

My answer to them: “Well, it’s complicated.”

 

I could share with you how I lecture on the basis of these questions but that’s a 2000-word essay, not a blog post. I tell my students we have many things to consider…

  • We’d need to consider how racism has always played a key role in our country and how it became embedded in our criminal justice system. We also need to talk about juries, how difficult it can be to find the truth and how media coverage and social media conversations impact the perceptions of what we believe is true. We’d need to consider the origins of racism and the repetitive narratives of injustice, violence and poverty in communities of color to examine the correlations.
  • We’d need to look at the public’s general perception about the problem of police brutality and its history in America from the civil rights movement of the 1960’s to the transition from community policing to military policing in the 1980’s. We’d need to examine data that shows if you are black you are far more likely to die at the hands of a police officer than you would if you are white, and how that knowledge has perpetuated a relationship of conflict between police officers and the black community. We’d need to talk about how the outrage makes people feel hopeless and inspired to react in protesting or even rioting.
  • We’d need to examine the disturbing trend in the news media where a person is often criminalized when they have been killed by a police officer rather than insisting they deserved to a chance to be charged, brought to trial and have remained among the living. We’d need to research at the trend of citizen journalism becoming a powerful catalyst for the narrative of injustice as a tool for breaking news. We’d need ask if we can discern by only looking at the mobile phone footage of a bystander how an unarmed citizen is to blame for the overcorrection, extra force or lack of control displayed by police officers.
  • We’d need to assess how police administrators are training officers and addressing criticism since police brutality has gotten so much national attention recently. We’d need to consider that what a police officer could despise more than anything is when their authority is challenged, regardless of your color, and that could get you thrown in jail or met with excessive force. We should acknowledge that there are officers and administrators who understand how this crisis is impacting public trust and are trying to handle the issue with care and concern because their profession requires that they put their lives on the line everyday.
  • We’d need to consider our role in calling out injustice as a social and moral responsibility when the dynamic of the unknown convicts us to acknowledge stereotypes and reveal blind spots. We’d need to be honest about the relative silence over unfair treatment when it doesn’t impact us directly. We should admit we are imperfect people who have a tendency to limit our perspective, opinions, beliefs and comfort zones to be in agreement with those who relate to us most. We need to remember that what affects one affects us all, or at least it should.

I told you. It’s complicated.

I have the next generation of FOX news anchors, CNN producers, national radio hosts, online news editors, public information officers, non-profit leaders and crisis PR practitioners in my classroom. They will shape public opinion and determine how we consume messages through media. These students are studying to go into newsrooms to write stories and headlines about issues they’ve never witnessed personally, go into communities that may not look like the places they grew up in with cameras to capture the conflict of people who don’t look like them, go into companies to help generate awareness among a target audience whose lifestyles they can’t relate to, or go into organizations to help senior leaders to communicate about issues that might make them uncomfortable.

If I don’t get real with them, who will?

Now, I could be the kind of professor that ignores the cultural sensitivities that surface from answering these questions or I could be the kind that challenges students and myself to explore our self-identities and look at how fit they into the world. This is where we must consider our younger generations who are confused but curious about their role in improving our society in ways that enlighten and empower them. Violence, race and injustice – the anchors of the cultural discourse around police brutality – aren’t the easiest concepts to grasp and are no longer the kinds of one-time shallow conversations we can sweep under the rug. Ignoring the facts dehumanizes us. They have to be talked about on an ongoing basis every time a story comes out.

I challenge you, whether a professional, professor or parent, to start having open discussion about cultural issues with the young students in your communities. Address your personal biases internally, dig for more than what is reported through media, be okay with the discomfort of disagreement when a different opinion is expressed, search for a historical context connected to these issues we’ve increasingly seen in the news, seek meaningful conversations with people who’ve experienced the cultural struggles that you haven’t, and empower a young student to intelligently assess their role in doing something about the issues.

I’d like to hear from you.

How has your perspective of race and police brutality been impacted by recent events?

How has media coverage of the current events heightened your cultural sensitivity to racial issues and police discrimination?

How do you intend to help the next generation of leaders understand and address difficult issues like race, violence and injustice?

A Chat about Women of PR in Leadership

1 out every 3 public relations professional is a woman. While the public relations industry has become a female-dominated field, the leadership roles across the board are held by men. And, the wage gap is even wider. Agencies like Burson-Marstellar and Hill-Knowlton are pushing initiatives to lessen the divide.

Understanding the importance of this discussion, the PRSA Diversity & Inclusion Committee, in partnership with the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, hosted a Twitter chat during Women’s History Month to explore workforce gaps in the PR industry and discuss how we can better work to develop women leaders.

Here are highlights of the chat in a Storify story. https://storify.com/aerialellis/women-in-leadership-pr

PRSA women leadership diversity Aerial Ellis

PRSA women leadership diversity Aerial Ellis

Inclusion Must Honor the MLK Legacy

As we return to work after observing the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, we must pause to honor his legacy and reflect on the impact of his work as it lingers throughout our communities.

If we consider the presence of that legacy being carried out in our organizations, we would immediately consider the practice of diversity and inclusion.

Sadly however, many organizations spend more time talking about how they can and should improve workplace diversity than taking any measurable action toward workplace inclusion.  Statements and declarations, committees and councils, trainings and assessments — all sound great. None of those things truly move the needle toward inclusion. When policies are not matched with strategic efforts, results will never come about.

In light of this much needed work, I was happy to create and coordinate the annual MLK Diversity Breakfast hosted by the Lipscomb University Department of Communication and Journalism and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on Friday, January 15, 2016 in partnership with the Council on Workforce Innovation and National Organization for Workforce Diversity.

This event is aimed at inspiring interactive conversation among local leaders who are champions for diversity and inclusion by sharing ideas, addressing issues and rethinking practices that affect our multicultural communities.

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(Aerial Ellis opening the 2016 MLK Diversity Breakfast at Lipscomb University.)

The MLK Diversity Breakfast is an opportunity for area professionals to gain a greater understanding of how to communicate about diversity and inclusion as a priority within their organizations and have access to a network of colleagues who collectively celebrate the cultural progression of the Nashville community. Our keynote speaker is a C-suite or civic leader connected to the practice of cross-cultural communication with a passion for the ways in which diversity and inclusion impacts business and community.

This year’s event featured Rose Jackson Flenorl, Manager, Global Citizenship, FedEx Corporation as keynote speaker. Flenorl directs and implements the company’s community outreach strategy in the areas of disaster relief, safety, environment, education, and diversity. She leads a team of professionals committed to representing the heart of the corporation by executing strategic programs and maintaining relationships with national and international non-profit organizations. Flenorl provided insight on the global corporation’s work in serving an evolving base of multicultural consumers, strengthening its pipeline to recruit, retain and advance diverse talent, and supporting minority business owners and community initiatives through citizenship engagement.

Last year, our inaugural event featured Anthony Carter, Chief Diversity Officer at Johnson & Johnson. Take a look at our 2015 highlights.

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(L-R: Rose Jackson Flenorl of FedEx – 2016 keynote speaker, Jacky Akbari of Now Diversity)

In addition to the breakfast, Rose Jackson Flenorl spent time talking with our communication and journalism students about the path to success in the industry. Discussions about diversity allow our students to better identify bias and stereotypes, discover advocacy with an objective lens, and communicate across global cultures as future journalists and public relations practitioners.

Though her visit, I believe all were able to consider diversity as a social action that challenges those norms, values, styles and patterns of thinking that can inspire more inclusive conversations.

If organizations strive to live up to the tenets of Dr. King’s vision, they must honor his legacy through actions that show real progress toward workplace inclusion. Initiatives must not only embrace employees for their individuality but also celebrate the differences that contribute to the success and innovation in the workplace regardless of gender, creed, color or sexual orientation.

Beyond commemorative events and celebrations, we have an obligation to act. Inclusion at any point should always be our goal. In this new year and moment of cultural reflection, I challenge you to thinker deeper about the ways Dr. King’s legacy can inspire and shape your organization’s practice of inclusion.

See a few highlights from the 2016 MLK Diversity Breakfast.

What I’m Reading: Between the World and Me

What I’m reading: Between The World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates.

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

This is a profound work by an amazing author passionately attempting to explain the difficulties of race and American racism to his young Black son. This work offers a powerful framework for new and present understanding of our nation’s shameful and complicated history with race and the current conversation around the cultural crisis.

I will boldly say that this is required reading as quoted by the great Toni Morrison. The author is giving a new age Richard Wright, James McBride type literally excellence.

Very impressed and enlightened.

Highly recommended.Aerial Ellis what I'm reading

Five Things PR Pros Can Learn From #BlackTwitter

If you hadn’t heard, the Los Angeles Times recently added a reporter to cover #BlackTwitter.

What is #BlackTwitter?… I’m glad you asked.

Over the past few years, Twitter has become a platform for breaking news, public discussion, trending topics and cultural concerns. On occasion, a hashtag will emerge among the chatter. The hashtag #BlackTwitter has grown as one of the most popular colloquialisms associated with African-Americans who use Twitter, many of whom are tastemakers, public figures and intellectuals collectively setting the tone for daily dialogue related to real-world issues that would have been seen as rather taboo or sensitive for mainstream media.

Conversations around the murder of Michael Brown or scenes from ABC’s hit TV show “Scandal” are examples of how the hashtag reflects the variety in which African-Americans are passionately tweeting among themselves to raise awareness, celebrate interests and disrupt the narratives of mainstream media. Searching the hashtag means you will find discussions about everything from the calling out of a celebrity for making a cultural offense to running jokes about stereotypes shared among African-Americans.

PR pros are increasingly seeking ways to drill closer to the lifestyles, behaviors and sentiments of ethnic communities with social media as the source. Though hashtags have risen in popularity, use for audience research can be selectively evaluated and subjectively filtered. This is a critical place to pause and caution PR pros to think deeply about strategies designed to tap into a diverse ethnic community through social media.

Black Twitter Aerial EllisHere are five things PR pros can learn from #BlackTwitter:

African-Americans use Twitter frequently…

There’s a hint of consumer insight to be gained from #BlackTwitter. African Americans use social media more than any other ethnic group and access Twitter by roughly 22 percent as compared with 16 percent of whites, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. The study also revealed that 73 percent of all African-Americans using the Internet are on Twitter. Brands and organizations can build and benefit from access to this population and the dynamics of engagement that await discovery.

But this isn’t a solely “black thing” – it’s simply the nature of online communities…

The great thing about social media is that it provides a space for conversations that have been long had offline to find a home online. The essence of conversations within an ethnic group that derived mostly from their unique experiences is now open to observation for all. As in any online community, members are more likely to bond around a core commonality, follow each other, develop their own terminology, and create consensus around commentary. The knowledge of values and complexity is unlimited with #BlackTwitter because conversations can change overnight. However, this dynamic allows diverse groups to dominate conversations with an authentic voice.

Because their influence motivates movements…

The presence of African-Americans on Twitter established a history for the #BlackTwitter hashtag and the subcultures it birthed. When African-Americans felt mainstream media overlooked or ignored issues that impacted their community, they took to Twitter. For instance, the hashtag #BoycottSororitySisters was created by VH1 viewers to express their disappointment and embarrassment with a new reality show that chronicled the lives of African-American sorority sisters focusing on stereotypes among the women instead of the sisterhood and service these organizations are known for. After the backlash, brands such Hallmark, Honda, Domino’s and State Farm used Twitter to announce that their advertisements would be pulled from show and VH1 later confirmed the show’s cancellation.

That’s why newsrooms are watching…

Whether for profit or production, media has shown an increased interest in ethnic communities. Although there remains a deficiency among people of color working in newsrooms, outlets are getting smarter about how the history of diverse groups is researched and how the issues of race, gender, and identity within a community are reported. Content creators have to be responsible enough not to surveillance tweets for subject matter or copy and paste screenshots but instead work with users to tell broader stories through interviews and leverage access to the relationships of users to build diverse connections. Content creators should also be keen on the differences between a trending topic and a story of substance.

And remember, anyone can use a hashtag.

Careful not to use #BlackTwitter as a window into this consumer base from the comfort of your laptop without a true historical context of the audience and the issues they tweet about. Ethnic groups are not monolithic. Trends among people of color especially can be hard to assess. One member’s voice cannot cover the complete sentiments of the whole. Acknowledge the patterns but recognize that perspectives, interests and needs of a group cannot be teased out of a hashtag.

It’s enlightening to see the cultural phenomenon of #BlackTwitter proving the power of people-centered platforms but it’s more important that PR pros explore the intersectional issues discussed by people of color via social media through the advancement of inclusive conversations.

A New Reality: Women of Color Meet at C2 Miami

As organizations adjust to cultural shifts within their businesses internally and search for ways to connect with multi-layered audiences externally, diversity becomes a major topic for senior leaders. A new reality for women of color in the communications industry leading the conversation around issues of diversity and inclusion is now before us.

I had the exhilarating experience of attending the ColorComm C2 Conference last week in Key Biscayne, Florida. Women of color in public relations, marketing, advertising, media, and digital gathered from all across the country to share experiences and learn from one another to enhance their personal and professional development.

The three-day event for women focuses on leadership training, executive positioning, business development, and expanding financial literacy. The event also attracts leaders in diversity and inclusion.

I asked some of the nation’s leading women in the communications industry their thoughts on diversity and inclusion, and they all agree on one thing: the practice must be a priority.

Hear what they had to say.

With a star lineup of speakers including women’s activist Gloria Steinem and CNN’s Lisa Ling, the women dived deep into discussions about diversifying the communications industry, remaining professionally competitive, navigating promotions and achieving work-life balance.

This event exchanged rich moments of wisdom, intellect and sisterhood. Click below to see the great rundown of highlights from social media with the #C2Miami hashtag.

Aerial Ellis

I’m definitely counting down to #C2Miami 2016!

Are you a women of color in communications? How do you think diversity impacts our new reality?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comment here and tweet me @aerialellis using the hashtag #PRdiversity.

Conversations about Race at Lipscomb University’s Summer Celebration

PSX_20150702_113200Ferguson, Baltimore and now Charleston – tangible and tragic moments in a much larger national dynamic that involves an increasingly diverse nation trying to understand and practice racial harmony.

This morning, I had the chance to talk issues of race and injustice around these events and the media coverage surrounding them in a class led by President Randy Lowry at Lipscomb University’s annual Summer Celebration. I was certainly happy to do it (see my photo? 🙂

One of my fellow faculty members asked me at the end of the discussion in reference to my comments, “how do you talk to your students about race as a black woman in a majority white environment like Lipscomb?” and we had good dialogue around my answer.

I am always amazed when a community of faith comes together to talk about such a difficult topic as race in a spiritual context and encouraged by the honesty of those who admit their shortcomings when dealing with issues of race.

I have much more to say about these topics as we dwell deeper and deeper into an era of racial understanding so I plan to write a few pieces around the subject in the coming months.

Thankful to President Lowry for inviting me to be a part of the discussion today! ‪