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Gender, ethnicity, and background - exploring the people who make up our industry

I’m pleased to share the next instalment of the findings from our survey of more than 80 consultants in then-APPC organisations, designed to help us better understand our industry and some of the challenges both member-firms and individual consultancies face. In this post, I will focus on the issues of gender, ethnicity and the level of support offered to consultants from less privileged backgrounds.

As I flagged in my first article - but is worth reiterating again - the establishment of the Public Affairs Board, with its new expanded membership base, means that the data looked at here is by its very nature only partial. However, we still felt that sharing it more widely could be beneficial in starting what I hope will be a conversation about how to address some of the challenges our industry faces. We also plan to launch a fully-fledged Public Affairs Census in 2019 which will build on these findings.


Our survey finds that there’s a significant slant towards male consultants by a factor of almost 2:1 (63% of respondents were male vs 33% female, with other respondents not disclosing their sex). If this is a fair representation of the workforce, it highlights an issue that we as an industry ought to address. Indeed, our Executive Committee’s own team should consider what steps it can take to attract participation from more women: only six of the 26 members of the current Public Affairs Board’s Executive Committee are female.

We asked consultants to indicate the extent to which they agreed with the statement that ‘The public affairs industry has a good gender balance’. 48% agreed, with a further 12% strongly agreeing; 26% disagreed and 4% strongly disagreed. However, we wanted to understand whether there was a gender split in the answers to this question. So, we cross-referenced the findings with the sex of each respondent. 64% of men either agreed or strongly agreed there was a good gender balance, compared to 46% of women. This is an interesting finding - and perhaps not altogether unsurprising. It rather reinforces the importance of both encouraging women into leadership roles, as well as finding ways to more effectively recruit the next generation of female consultants and improve their retention within the industry. This is something I’d like to explore in some more depth as part of the 2019 Census.

Gender and seniority vs salary

We cross-referenced consultants’ seniority and pay with their gender and found that there are a greater proportion of men than women in the higher income brackets. For all incomes over £80,000 per annum there are many more men earning higher salaries than women (see graphic), and crucially it’s greater than the split of male:female respondents. Furthermore, of the consultants earning over £150,000 per annum (4 / 84 respondents), none were female. We should treat this data cautiously, but it does at least point to a degree of salary inequality between male and female consultants.  

When we look at seniority versus gender there is a slightly more mixed picture. Despite half as many female than male consultants responding to this survey, almost double the number of women hold ‘managing director’ positions than men. That said the reverse is true for ‘director’-level roles (73% men: 27% women). The survey also found that 71% of company founders were male, as opposed to 21% female (the remainder did not disclose details of their gender). What these findings suggest - and we cannot at this stage go further than this - is that not only does a gender imbalance exist in terms of the number of women employed within the industry, but also in respect of the levels of seniority they attain.

People from less privileged backgrounds

We asked respondents to indicate to what extent they agreed with the statement that ‘The public affairs industry provides sufficient opportunities for those from less privileged backgrounds’. Just 16% of those who replied agreed or strongly agreed. 43% disagreed with a further 15% strongly disagreeing. Just under a quarter of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed. We then find that there is a considerable difference of opinion between younger and older consultants on this issue. 57% of 25-29 year olds and 50% of 30-39 year olds say that the industry does not give enough opportunities to those from less privileged backgrounds. Compare that to just 14% of 40-49 year-olds and 22% of those aged 50 and over who feel the industry doesn’t give enough opportunities to those from less privileged backgrounds. It is likely to be those in the older age bracket in positions of seniority who can exert the greatest influence over hiring policies. My colleague Jenny wrote about the growth in paid internships in her recent article. This certainly feels like a progressive step in helping those from less privileged backgrounds to take their first steps into the industry. I’d certainly be keen to better understand the proportion of firms who offer these internships and the type of permanent paid opportunities they can lead to. Again, I’d like to use the 2019 Census to burrow down into this issue in some more detail to find out what best-practice looks like.

Ethnic diversity

Whilst we didn’t ask respondents to provide details of their ethnic background, we did ask them to indicate the extent to which they agreed with the statement that ‘The public affairs industry is ethnically diverse’. 45% disagreed with this statement and a further 21% strongly disagreed. Just 2% strongly agreed and a further 14% agreed. It concerns me that our own consultants feel that our industry is not ethnically diverse. We will need to consider how best to find out more information here: it would clearly be useful to have more primary data about the numbers of ethnic minority consultants and hear directly from them about their own views and experiences of working in public affairs and their routes into the industry.


Of all the areas our survey looked at these are perhaps the ones which pose the greatest number of questions. If female consultants are typically not working in more senior roles why is that? Are we doing enough to reach out to people from less privileged backgrounds and if not then what more can we do? And if our industry is not ethnically diverse - as a clear majority of respondents say - then what more information do we need in order to help quantify the problem and in turn work with our member firms to address this? It’s clear to me the first step is to get more and better information about all of these issues, and through my role on the Executive Committee, this is exactly what I plan to do in 2019.