Diversity at MP&F: Looking Under the Hood

MPF StaffBlog

As an independently owned communications firm in business for 33 years, MP&F has always believed that the diversity of our company is important. We benefit from the richness diversity brings to our culture, we benefit from the different perspectives it brings to our work for our clients, and we benefit from the incredible people we get to work with, who are part of our MP&F family. 

As a company that advises other organizations on the best ways to communicate to diverse audiences, we know from experience that having a diverse company allows us to do our job better. But beyond that, we become better people when we work and play and interact daily with others who are not like us. 

We’ve run our company with an adherence to this approach, and we’ve felt good about it for all these years; but in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd and others, we feel the need to take inventory of exactly how we’re addressing the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, unconscious bias, and others. We think this is an important moment for our country, and for our company, and it makes sense for us to open the hood of the car, so to speak, and look more closely at MP&F through the diversity, equity and inclusion lens.  

We have worked hard to identify and hire people of color, but we can do better. Today, 16.4 percent of MP&F employees are people of color. They hold positions in the company ranging from vice president to assistant account executive, to office assistant. At our company, we have traditionally hired at the entry-level position because we benefit from the influx of young people, and part of our issue is that the pool of candidates from which we choose does not have enough candidates of color. 

In 2018, 18.7 percent of the 761 individuals who applied to MP&F classified themselves as “non-white.” (Non-white means American Indian, Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or two or more races.) In 2019, MP&F received 855 applications, and again, 18.7 percent were “non-white.” We can do better, and one of the things we can do is try to attract more people of color, not only to our company, but to our profession.

Back in 2015, we created the MP&F Diversity Fellowship program, in order to broaden the field of applicants. We have recruited a Diversity Fellow each year since then. These candidates often have not taken the traditional route to prepare for a career in communications, but they have an interest in learning about this profession and are willing to become part of our company. We believe this is a great way to expand the applicant pool. 

MP&F has had an intern program since 1991, and we have hosted 330-plus college students who have sought real-world experience at a communications firm. (Approximately 8 percent have been people of color.) Many of these individuals have gone on to become full-time MP&F employees. We traditionally hire three classes of interns each year, and in addition to the Diversity Fellowship, we want our intern classes to reflect the diversity of the community. We seek and recruit applicants from throughout the country, including those who attend HBCUs. All MP&F internships and our Diversity Fellowship are paid positions, and often interns and Diversity Fellows become full-time members of our staff.  

We have felt for a long time that our ability to attract diverse applicants would benefit from a close relationship with Tennessee State University, one of our local HBCUs – which offers both a Bachelor of Science degree in communication studies and a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication studies. We have had members of our staff speak to classes at TSU on how to prepare a resume, how to prepare for an interview and ways to improve their chances of finding employment. And we invited a TSU professor to job shadow at MP&F for two weeks, to get a better sense of how the school’s communications curriculum aligns with the real-world work of an agency. 

Understanding that people of color are under-represented in communications/public relations programs in many colleges and universities, MP&F began a pilot program in 2019 with Hillsboro High School in Nashville to raise awareness of our profession with students who have not yet made a decision about a college major. 

In our local Public Relations Society of America chapter, MP&F staff members lead the list of volunteers who participate in local career fairs and encourage young people to consider a career in communications. 

In 2015, we created a Diversity and Inclusion committee of staff members, who develop activities for our company and lead the discussions on topics like unconscious bias, microaggression, and the need to use inclusive language and design. We understand that diversity and inclusion is not just about race. It also means trying to build a company that will be attractive to the LGBTQ community, individuals with disabilities and those of varying religious beliefs. 

We now talk more actively about race and associated issues as a company. That includes bias training at our annual retreats, open conversations about personal encounters with racism, a newly organized book club and, most recently, companywide focus groups. We also address a diversity topic at each of our monthly staff meetings. 

In 2019, MP&F received federal and state certification as a majority woman-owned business. Our industry is made up mostly of women; but for many years, the ownership of our company was made up primarily of men, mainly because three former reporters, all men, started the company. The transition of our company to a majority woman-owned business is one indication of the way MP&F continues to evolve as a company. 

MP&F has been in business for more than three decades, and we plan to be in business for many more. We must continue to hire, train and elevate young people of diverse backgrounds who want to build a career in communications. And we pledge that our commitment to building a diverse and inclusive company will be part of our future, just as it has been part of our past.

We would love to hear your recommendations and suggestions for building diversity in the communications industry. Please email us with your ideas and best practices.