Ethnic diversity woefully under estimated in UK public relations

Karan Chadda crunches the numbers and suggests that the UK public relations profession has a much bigger issue with diversity than even it realises.

The diversity debate can become quite personal and bruising.

Those who sit at the top of an industry can feel like their accomplishments and hard work are being questioned or devalued.

Meanwhile those who are battling to change the status quo are often framed as loud mouthed or troublesome.

It’s often helpful to view issues through the objective prism of data and economics.

At the outset, a basic assumption. Let’s assume that no ethnic group has a greater proportion of creative or talented people. I hope no one will find this controversial.

Now let’s gather some data.

CIPR Census: 8% practitioners from BME or mixed background

The CIPR’s last census, found eight percent of respondents identified as black, Asian, mixed or other (page 31). It tallies with the PRCA’s figure of nine percent BME practitioners from its 2016 census.


Figure 1: Analysis from PRCA Public Relations Census 2016

ONS: 13% of UK public is BME or mixed background

ONS data from the 2011 Census found that the BME or mixed ethnicity population of the country as a whole was 13%.

These two data points are often used together to state that the public relations business needs to up its ethnic minority practitioners up to the national average.

Job done. Or is it? Let’s take a harder look.

London Mayor’s office: 58% of UK public relations business London-based

In a report published in November 2016 GLA Economics, part of the Mayor of London’s office, estimated that 58% of public relations roles are London based (page 601).


Figure 2: Professional activities in London (GLA Economics, 2016)

That means three in every five people that work in public relations, work in London.

ONS: 40% of London population is BME or mixed background

If we jump back to the ONS data from the 2011 census, it found that those from BME or mixed ethnicity background made up 40% of London’s population.

Let’s assume that the 42% of public relations practitioners outside London are living, in aggregate, in areas with a BME or mixed ethnicity population that matches the national average (13%). 

Adjusting for London and the South East

We now have two sets of numbers.

Let’s calculate the proportion of BME practitioners that would in theory work in public relations, if the industry recruited in proportion to the local populations where it is based.

For that, we need to calculate the 40% BME populations of London as a proportion of 58% of public relations jobs, and combine that with the BME population as a proportion of public relations jobs outside London (13% and 42% respectively).

It gives us 29%. 

That’s a blended national rate for the proportion of public relations professionals who should come from BME or mixed ethnicity backgrounds in a perfect labour market.

At this point, the model has a glaring failure in that it doesn’t account for the fact that people move for work and sometimes commute long distances for work. For example, someone living in Cambridge might commute to work in London.

ONS: 24% of London and South East population is BME or mixed background

Let’s make a simplifying assumption.

Let’s take the combined ethnic minority population of London and the South East (24% according to ONS data) and treat that as the employment pool for London’s public relations jobs. I’m going to leave calculations for the rest of the country as it stands.

So we’re still taking 13% of 42% and now we’re adding onto that 24% of the 58%. 

That gives us 19%.

We’re currently at 8% BME representation in public relations, according to the CIPR. We should be aspiring to reach 19% because so much of the profession is based in London.

To put those numbers into context. When you next walk into a room full of public relations people, at best one in 12 of them will be BME. Our goal should be to get that to one in five.

The industry’s response

Taylor Bennett Foundation

Prior to publication, this analysis was shared with the Taylor Bennett Foundation, the PRCA and the CIPR who were all kind enough to provide their responses to the findings.

“At the Foundation we would like the industry to at least aim for the 13% figure, but we are acutely aware that with the prominence of London this doesn’t go far enough to reflect the true diversity of the regions the industry operates in and we welcome this analysis,” said Sarah Stimson, CEO, Taylor Bennett Foundation.

“With the 2021 census looming, we would expect to see an increase in the number of BME people living across the UK. The 2016 National School Census showed that more than one in four school children under 10 years old are from a non-white background. Those children will be entering the workforce in the next 8 to 15 years and we need to be preparing for that.”

“The numbers are useful because they allow us to set aspirational targets, but they should be the minimum not the ultimate goal. We can’t have too much diversity.”


"Thank you to Karan for these insightful observations into the data around the diversity of the UK public relations and communications industry,” said Pema Seely, Co-Chairman, PRCA Diversity Network.

“The integration of ethnic diversity figures with regional demographics provides a valuable layer of sophistication. This only serves to further prove that the public relations and communications industry has a lot more work to do to provide equal access to careers for people from all backgrounds."


“These statistics evidence the scale of the diversity challenge facing public relations,” said Koray Camgoz, Public Relations Manager, CIPR.

“Comparing PR’s ethnicity statistics with average figures for the UK unquestionably understates the size of the problem.”

“These figures show that even if the number of BME professionals in public relations doubled overnight, the industry would still fall short of delivering equal representation.” 

“Public relations’ progress on this issue has been inexcusably slow for years. Whether the target is 13% or 19%, the irrevocable fact remains the industry has collectively failed to make any positive steps towards addressing the issue.”

“We should absolutely be working towards higher targets. But a sustainable increase of diverse professionals will only be achieved when we cultivate genuinely inclusive environments in our organisations and agencies.”

“Increasing the percentage of diverse professionals is critical but efforts will be wasted if those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds find themselves in an industry that doesn’t value their contribution and lacks the willingness to adapt its culture. How many BME practitioners are truly thriving in our industry today?"

Post script

This isn’t particularly sophisticated modelling, but it’s far more sophisticated than existing data in public relations.

More detailed regional data would help produce a more accurate target figure. As would data about regional candidate pools. Above all, the availability of data with regional breakdowns of the ethnic make-up of the working age population would be useful.

However, even with that data, the dominance of London means the percentage will be in the mid-to-high teens regardless of other regional variations.

Moreover, we can safely state that most public relations jobs exist in cities or larger towns and these locations tend to have higher BME populations than the national average, so better regional data may actually drive that figure up.


Karan Chadda creates brands, marketing frameworks and content that build stronger businesses. He is the founder of Evolving Influence, a marketing consultancy. He has also founded Poetry by Numbers, a data poetry project, and Read.Think.Discuss., a business book club.


Twitter: @kchadda