Paladin Honoree Tanaka Stresses Diversity and Inclusion

Post written by Jack O’Dwyer at:

Patrice Tanaka, recipient of the 2017 Paladin Award of the PRSA Foundation, which recognizes courage in the pursuit of worthy causes, stressed the need for diversity and inclusion.

Patrice Tanaka

Tanaka now heads Joyful Planet, which is focused on helping individuals and organizations to discover and live their purpose to unleash greater success and joy in their personal lives, their workplaces and their communities. She was called “a model and inspiration for us all” by Judith Harrison, Foundation president.

Her career is “a tribute to the power of creativity, insight and advocacy,” said Harrison. “Her work throughout her career embodies the spirit of the ‘paladin,’ an advocate of noble causes in medieval times.” Tanaka was a principal of Patrice Tanaka & Co., CRT/Tanaka and PadillaCRT, which is now Padilla.

The presentation took place last night before a gathering of 125 at the Helen Mills Event Space, W. 26th st., New York.

Previous recipients were Charlotte Otto, Harris Diamond, Dan Edelman, Harold Burson, Jon Iwata, Marcia Silverman, John Graham and Mike Fernandez.

Proceeds support the Foundation, which partners with the Arthur W. Page Society, the PR Council, the Plank Center and major universities.

Harrison Is on Diversity Mission

Harrison, SVP of diversity and inclusion at Weber Shandwick, said her singular mission is increasing diversity and inclusion in the communications industry.

“We help educate and empower rising diverse talent with the potential to become the next generation of leaders in a rapidly changing industry,” she said. Weber Shandwick provides scholarships to promising students as well as internships.

Judith Harrison

“We know that companies with diverse executive boards significantly outperform their peers and enjoy higher earnings and returns on average and yet, with mostly $3.5 trillion of minority buying power in this country 91% of the top 100 senior roles in the US are white. In 2014 only 8.7% of people in our business were black and 10.7% were Hispanic.She noted that “43% of millennials are diverse” and 47% consider diversity and inclusion to be the determining factors in where they will work. “So that is huge and something we have not seen before. We know that a diverse workforce operating in an inclusive environment is a key driver in innovation, a critical component, a necessity for companies looking to attract and to obtain top talent.”

“Thus it is imperative that we treat diversity in our industry as a hair-on-fire emergency… lives have been changed and career choices validated by the tuition support, internship opportunities, industry connections the Foundation has provided.”

Tanaka’s acceptance speech:


The mission of the Foundation is now more important than ever.

We live in a country where “diversity and inclusion” are not the “norm” everywhere.

(L to R) Kathy Sandler, Chinyelu Onuora, Regina Maziarz, Mary Rose Insinga, and Shana Chapple honor Patrice Tanaka.

And, we live in a time when some people feel freer to be verbally and physically abusive to those who are different.

I was born and raised in Hawaii – a place rich in the diversity of its people.  

And, to me, this is the “norm.” 

When I was in high school, I spent six weeks one summer traveling throughout Japan with a church group. I felt really miserable and out of sorts the entire time and actually became physically ill with pneumonia.

I did NOT like Japan, which, as a Japanese-American, really surprised me. 

But, it wasn’t until I returned home and some months later read about a young Jewish girl from New York City who spent the summer on a kibbutz in Israel that I gained some insight into why I felt so uncomfortable in Japan. This young Jewish girl said she hated being in Israel, explaining “Everyone here is Jewish!” She grew up in the richness of a diverse New York City and wasn’t used to the religious homogeneity of Israel.

It was an “a-hah” moment for me.  I finally understood why I felt so uncomfortable in Japan. The society was so homogenous. Everyone was Japanese!

Tanaka Lived in “Close” Community

Growing up on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific, I was always acutely aware of living in a very close – almost “too close” of a – “community” where everyone knew everyone.

And, that was both “good and bad.”

“Good” because, if something bad happened to anyone, the “community” banded together to support them. When our elderly neighbor’s husband died, my mom and dad took hot meals to her for an entire year until she moved away.

The “bad” of a “too close” community like Hawaii is that everyone knows everyone’s business. In Hawaii, for example, you would never use your car horn to signal impatience, like we do routinely here in NYC, because, if you turned around to find out who that rude person was honking at you it might be your neighbor or your neighbor’s cousin. And word would spread about how “rude” you were! Or, as we say in Hawaii, “people would talk stink about you.” And, your reputation would be ruined.

Liked the Diversity of New York

One of the reasons I moved to New York City was that I loved the idea that you could live “anonymously” in a city of millions of people where no one knew you or your personal business. And, if you didn’t like someone or something they said, you could be direct and vocal about your displeasure – something you’d never do in Hawaii.

The irony of ironies is that since I “ran away from”/ moved to NYC, I’ve tried to create a sense of “community” in every area of my personal and professional life.

First and foremost was creating a sense of “community” at work because we spend so much time there.
I intuitively realized that “to feel safe and be able to perform at your best” you need to be part of a community that embraces and celebrates you – the whole person!

My goal was to have employees feel comfortable bringing their whole self to into the office not just their “professional” self.

Google recently did an exhaustive study to net out that the secret to “high-performing teams” is something they termed, “psychological safety,” which makes total sense.

Creating a sense of community at work was not just “altruism.” It addressed my own personal need to feel a sense of “belonging and safety” in a city far from home.

I felt so strongly about the idea of a “workplace community” that I articulated it in a “business purpose” for my first PR agency, PT&Co., which I co-founded with 12 colleagues after leading them in a management buyback from Chiat/Day in 1990.

Set Goals for PT&Co.

The business purpose I articulated at that time was “PT&Co. is committed to creating: Great work. Great workplace. Great communities that work.”

Great work because…we wanted to attract and retain top clients

Great workplace because…we needed to attract and retain top talent to produce great work

Great communities that work, i.e., healthy, sustainable communities because…top talent wants to engage in meaningful work. They want their work to make a positive impact on society, which we invited them to do at PT&Co.

I believe that clearly articulating our “business purpose” – and institutionalizing our commitment to community – was the reason PT&Co. was recognized as the #1 Most Creative Agency and at the same time the #2 Best Workplace among all PR agencies in the U.S. shortly after our founding.

And the reason we were also recognized as the #1 Most Esteemed PR Agency in NYC.  And #3 nationally.

I believe that “institutionalizing” a commitment to “community” is key to fostering diversity and inclusion and a “collaborative” workplace environment, which research bears out has a hugely positive impact on business results.

We all know, first-hand, that the workplace is where friendship and trust can be forged among people of different ethnicities, sexes, sexual orientation, age, abilities, religious beliefs and even political persuasions.

Many of my dearest friends like Pablo Olay from Padilla are those I’ve worked with at my former agencies.

Another very dear agency friend of nearly 30 years recently helped to elect our current President…but our friendship has weathered this storm and continues to remain strong and close today.

Believes in “Workplace Communities”

I believe that “great workplace communities,” which perforce reflect diversity and inclusion, can help our divided country come together.

And, at this time in America, businesses must take the lead in embracing diversity and inclusion.Moreover, getting diversity and inclusion right within the PR industry positions us as experts on communicating with diverse audiences and further reinforces the role of PR as a vital business function.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here. So, I’ll end by saying, thank you so much for this recognition. I am deeply touched, hugely grateful and extremely proud to be a member of the PR community.

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