As a PR professional, issues management is at the heart of our responsibilities. A 2007 report of CEO’s stated that they wanted their communication chiefs to “see around corners” and operate “ahead of major issues and trends.” A recent report by the Arthur Page Foundation affirms the role of the chief communication officer as “discovering predictive patterns of behavior that can inform future action.” How many of you have undertaken action for your clients or organizations that would prepare them for the coming change in demographics? Today’s emerging anti-immigration sentiment is a sign that public relations professionals may already be behind the curve on fostering meaningful action.
I recently returned from Morocco–part of a sponsored educational trip. I am still trying to process the mixed feelings I experienced in this country that is so culturally different from my daily existence. I was so appreciative for their homemade and unprocessed foods, the pride in and beauty of the hand-made products – particularly leather and textiles – and their unhurried and helpful attitudes. However, I was also uncomfortable with the couscous community eating bowl - one dish with many spoons (I really wanted to ask for a separate plate, but didn’t), gender expectations that preclude women from making choices about dress, careers, and are responsible for the dismal literacy rate (58.8% among Moroccan women!). In other words, there were cultural differences that I wanted to celebrate and cultural differences that I want to criticize – and some that I struggled to understand.
When I returned home from Morocco, I heard two news stories on NPR related to encounters with “the other.” One was a review of a new film out by a Filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud that explores Palestinian women navigating life “in between” cultures. In the story, a 45-year-old engineer commented that the film’s female characters were too sexually liberated, so he's forbidden his economist wife and 18-year-old daughter from going to the film. My concern is not so much his views on sexual liberation, but that an educated man “forbids” his educated wife and adult daughter from seeing a film. In the second story, a Polish Catholic priest grappled with his town’s change as Muslim immigrants move in. In the story, he said, "I'm almost like in Cairo because you know, the call for the prayer — and people covered up under clothings typical for Middle East. Yeah, it seemed like I'm working in Middle East." (A feeling similar to those expressed by American colonists when Catholics began immigrating.)
Encounters with other cultures can be enlightening and instructive, but also difficult, especially when you perceive that culture as somehow displacing your values, cultural norms or way of life. Recently, the Pew Research Center outlined demographic indicators that signal a more racially and ethnically diverse U.S. population in the future.
Public relations can play an active role in helping us navigate this change. The very definition of PR is to build “mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” With its roots in the revolutionary war, public relations has been a force in historical successes for ushering in change. Communication officers concerned about safety, security, harmony, productivity, and innovation need to address this shift in demographics and help our clients and organizations build relationships among diverse cultures.