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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.