Everyone in my family has either pursued engineering or the medical field to some capacity. And then there’s me: the public relations major, who “thank goodness chose to pursue the tech industry.”
As I entered my first lower-division public relations course, I couldn’t help but look around and notice that there were very few that looked like me. Yes, the classroom was about 95 percent female, but I couldn’t help but notice the low number of Asian Americans. I know that we should be color blind, but I couldn’t help it.
It’s almost a double standard. I have my purely Asian family asking, “what the hell is PR and why aren’t you pursuing engineering or medicine?” While the other half of the population says, “you’re Asian, you’ll be fine.”
But it’s not just my classrooms. As someone who has interned since her senior year of high school, there have been so many times where I have been the only Asian employee in the department or one of maybe five Asian American employees at most.
In 2013, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) established an initiative to increase diversity of in the field of public relations. However, I couldn’t help but notice the initiative targeted historically Black colleges and Hispanic Association of Colleges. As an advocate of the PRSA, I applaud them on their initiative, but I must acknowledge the red flag: where are the Asians?
At only 7.3 percent, Asian Americans are the lowest percentage of minorities in the field of public relations. So why hasn’t anything been done about this? As an Asian American in the field of public relations, I’m distraught that we still have not hit the double digits.
Nearly 15 million Asian Americans account for a segment of the U.S. population, representing about 5 percent of all Americans. That figure is expected to increase to nine percent by 2050. It’s estimated that by 2017, Asian Americans will have a purchasing power of $1.1 trillion, due to having higher incomes than other racial minority groups. So why, with so much potential, do we not motivate those who understand the Asian American market the best, to pursue the industry? In my personal opinion, it starts at a very young age with awareness of the existence of the field.
When I applied to college, I can honestly say I had no idea what public relations was or what the career path even entailed. No one told me about PR. Hell, even some job applications that have a list of majors don’t list PR as an option. If we want to see numbers grow, we need to start at a young age. In recent years, the promotion of STEM at a young age has increased significantly. I propose that a similar framework be used when promoting the field of public relations.
I’m not saying STEM is bad. STEM works in conjunction with my career objectives, so of course I support it. But for those who are strong writers and communicators, expose them to public relations as an option. This might not immediately increase the percentage, but it’s a start.
And then there’s the American Dream Factor. To the best of my understanding, one of the main components of achieving the Dream is financial stability. Let’s admit it, entry-level PR salary isn’t high at all. Actually, it’s quite low considering it’s basically a 24/7 job. So when I expressed the starting salary to my family, there was a slight look of concern. I’m entering an industry where you better love what you do because the pay isn’t why you’re doing it.
But to me, the American Dream should be focused on giving back to my parents, who sacrificed so much so I could have the life I currently live. I might not be able to buy them a house upon graduation, help pay for my brother’s college degree or anything that has a large price tag immediately. I can, however, try to give them the moon and back later down the line.
The number of Asian American public relations practitioners is low, but there is great potential in the coming years for it to increase, but there needs to be an understanding from the Asian American community that PR is a legitimate field to pursue and the American Dream isn’t lost if it is pursued.