Why Are Women Still Marginalized in PR?

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According to a 2014 World PR Report, while women make up 70 percent of the workforce in the public relations field, only 30 percent hold top positions. In a survey of approximately 250 firms, including many leading global firms, only 75 boasted at least one woman in its top positions.  Olga Khazan, in the article, Why Are There So Many Women in Public Relations, also noted the disparity between the dominance of female presence in the public relations field in general versus their presence in top leadership positions at major firms.  Sadly, the news is not particularly surprising.

For as many professional strides as women have made in the last few decades, men still dominate positions of power in most professional fields and the public relations industry is no different. However, what is particularly significant with regards to the latter, is the fact that it is so heavily dominated by women. It’s as if women are good enough to play an overwhelming role in the success of the industry but not good enough to occupy and/or share the head table.

Interestingly, this significant gender disparity in positions of power hardly seems noteworthy as a topic of discussion within the industry. Oh don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that there are a significant number of Women in P.R. organizations where quite a few monthly luncheons and events are held, which often addresses the issue of women and leadership. However, year after year, major industry awards and events are held from which the industry’s current trends are drawn, as well as key industry dialogue, and diversity within the field, rarely seems to be at the forefront.

We hear incessantly about social media, convergence, CSR, mobile, new agency models, transparency and more but little about diversity and even less about the lack of female leadership within the industry. Even amongst the overused list of phrases that are repeated incessantly within the industry – words like thought leader, leverage, innovative, etc. – diversity is not one of them. As noted above, I want to make it clear that I am not entirely discounting that some acknowledgement and dialogue has occurred with regards to this issue. However, the point is, that it has not been nearly enough. And unless discussion about the issue becomes more prevalent and has a much deeper industry focus, nothing will change.

So really, why aren’t there more female CEO’s in the public relations field? Khazan, in the aforementioned article, analyzes the reasons why so many women gravitate towards Public Relations in the first place, and one of the theories addressed, is the notion that it has to do with women naturally being more collaborative, sensitive, friendly, etc. or at least being socialized into those qualities. In other words, these traits are key elements for success within the public relations industry and so women, who naturally possess them (or societal norms tell them they do), inevitably gravitate towards the field.

If for argument’s sake, there is merit to this theory, it occurs to me then that one reason why there are so few women in positions of power in an industry so heavily dominated by them, is because in the same industry that seems to embrace and even demand these typically “female” qualities of sensitivity, people pleasing and friendliness, when it comes to leading an organization, the only expectations and demands are of strength and dominance, i.e. typical “male” qualities.

And if that is indeed the case, are we collectively as an industry basically saying to women that who we are is good enough to be a part of the collective efforts of the industry but not good enough to lead and make the final decisions? That we are good enough to effectively handle the many elements of the industry that makes for success and happy and satisfied clients but not good enough to successfully direct and control all the parts?

Unfortunately, I do not have the answers and I doubt any one person or even any one group does or that it is even one simple answer. However, it is my firm belief that it is a dialogue that should be happening on a much greater scale than it currently is.

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