Identity, power, and difference: The management of roles and self among public relations practitioners
Tindall, Natalie T.J.
Public relations is important to organizations because this function has boundary spanning roles and responsibilities. Public relations practitioners work between the organization and various publics to communicate messages in an effort to inform and influence the organization's leadership and dominant coalition and to inform and effect change among the organization's stakeholders. According to public relations theory, the communicators in the public relations department must match the diversity in the internal and external populations the organizations serve (e.g., L. A. Grunig, J. E. Grunig, & Dozier, 2000; Sha & Ford, 2007). However, public relations has been called a "lily-white profession" (Layton, 1981) and has been classified as "gay industry" (Woods & Lucas, 1993). Recent surveys about the field have indicated modest changes in the profession's demographic makeup (cf. 2005 PR Week Diversity Survey). The aim of this dissertation research is to examine and explore how power and identity merge and diverge in the everyday, professional lives of minority public relations practitioners. This research identified how these practitioners navigate through organizational networks, how they manage identity in their organizations, and how these practitioners interpret the concept of power. To recognize how practitioners interpret their experiences in organizations and to examine the meaning-making of practitioners, I needed the resulting product to be descriptive data that could be unraveled and clarified, then bracketed back to the Excellence Theory of public relations. Therefore, I utilized qualitative methodology. I conducted in-depth interviews with 51 public relations practitioners of various backgrounds--African American and Hispanic heterosexual practitioners; white lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) practitioners; and African American and Hispanic gay male practitioners. The findings revealed some particularly distinct themes. Black and Hispanic public relations practitioners and lesbian, gay male, and bisexual (LGB) public relations practitioners encountered heterosexism, racism, sexism, and occasionally all of these prejudices at the same time. As research participants encountered these barriers, they said they simultaneously resisted and enacted countermeasures to avoid those pitfalls. Power was perceived as having access to knowledge; access and control of financial resources; holding a seat in the dominant coalition; and having a high-ranking position in the organization. Participants achieved power and empowerment in their organizational roles through various avenues--avenues such as mentoring, seeking social support, and reaching out.