PR - A Female Dominated Industry

Guest blog post by Rosanna M. Fiske, APR, Chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America.


The finding in the 2011 PR Census that 64 per cent of the UK public relations workforce is female is not surprising. This trend has played out for almost two decades, as starting in the 1980s, more women than men began graduating from college. In many ways, this isn’t a bad thing at all. In 1970, according to Ragan’s PRDaily, women made up only 27 per cent of the U.S. PR workforce. Clearly, we’ve come a very long way over the past four decades.

 Today, that number ranges from 65–80 per cent. PRSA’s 2011 member survey bears this true, finding that that 70 per cent of our members are female.

 All of which may explain why the public’s first thought of a PR professional is often Samantha Jones from “Sex and the City.”  I think I can speak for every PR pro when I say that while she's entertaining, she is in no way our profession’s top role model.

But the image persists for a variety of reasons. And it’s absolutely something the global public relations industry will need to do more to address in the coming years. As a female, I’m proud of the vital role women play in our profession; but I’m also cognizant of the fact that there are still far too few women in senior leadership positions, particularly at the agency level.

 Equally troubling is the gender-based salary gap between male and female PR professionals in the U.S., which Bey-Ling Sha, Ph.D., APR, chair of PRSA’s Work, Life and Gender Committee, researched earlier this year.

 If we are going to properly address both issues, and not just give them lip-service, then much of our advocacy work will need to focus on educating and influencing the agencies. Our members tell us that diversity within the profession — gender, racial and ethnic — will be key to their agencies' long-term success, as businesses continue to seek a more global perspective to their communications and marketing initiatives.

 Groups like PRCA and PRSA can and should spur important initiatives and facilitate debates and dialogue about the value of a more diverse profession — ethnically, racially and gender based. Ultimately, though, it is the agencies that do much of the hiring in the U.S. and the U.K. These markets set the standard internationally, and are where our colleagues in allied professions look to for insight into broader PR trends.

 How we address this issue and how we get agencies to spur more gender-diverse hiring practices is not as simple as it may sound. Looking at the senior-leadership divide as one example, the percentage of women at the most senior levels in PR is precariously low. We’re not setting a proper example for junior- and mid-level female practitioners of the type of leadership and management roles they can achieve. That is clearly an area PRSA is keen to improve.

 Some have questioned whether this imbalance truly matters. After all, it is the clients and employers who pay for our services. If they aren’t actively seeking more gender-diverse PR teams, then why should we care? I don’t buy that notion.

 First, we need to be the leaders in this area. True leadership means educating those you impact on the importance of key initiatives and issues, even if they are not actively seeking that input or realized its importance.

 Second, for PR to achieve its true value, we must represent the immensely diverse perspectives of the global economy. That very much means having women in senior leadership roles. Especially so in an era when a woman leads the world’s most influential monetary fund (Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund) and the world’s most powerful diplomatic position is held not by a man, as was traditional, but by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

So does gender diversity matter? Absolutely. The 2011 PR Census numbers make clear that women are playing a key role in the UK PR industry’s growth. Now, we need to tap into this trend and find a way to get women past mid-career success. Once we get more female practitioners into the upper echelons of decision making, public relations will be one step closer to achieving its ultimate business value for clients and employers.

For more information about the PRSA please click here

Copies of the PR Census are available to buy on the PR Week website

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