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Why mentoring may break PR’s gender pay gap

According to the PRCA Census, the gender pay gap within the PR industry still exists, with men earning an average of £9,000 more than women for the same role. The PRCA has now pledged to measure agencies’ gender pay gaps as part of their Communications Management Standard audit – the hallmark of PR excellence for any PR practice.

Organisations are facing mounting pressure from the government to reveal and tackle their own inequalities. With this in mind, MHP’s Head of Brand, Rachael Sansom, joined a PRCA panel, hosted by Lisa Carr, Director and Partner at Lansons, with Liesl Smith, Global Head of Communications at Western Union Business Solutions, and Paul Cockerton, CEO at Dynamo PR, to discuss why the gap still exists.

The discussion confirmed this is not just a problem for PR, but an issue within society. There is not one country in the world that does not have a gender pay gap, with the UK’s average difference in pay being 9.4%.

There are many theories as to why the gap exists, such as discrimination for women who take maternity leave, or the possibility that women are reluctant to demand pay rises. The panelists’ personal experiences were that women come more prepared, armed with data and evidence to negotiate a promotion – where men take a more laid back approach. But a study in Australia found that women were asking for pay rises just as much as their male counterparts.

Another theory that the panel put forward was “accidental misogyny”, or unconscious bias. Putting barriers up for women without any conscious intent can come down to the most minute detail, such as the language used in a job description or advert.

Rachael pointed out that as an industry PR needed to look beyond pay and focus on women’s progression to senior roles. Among more junior grades, women outnumber men by three to one, but two thirds of board directors are men. Organisations need to tackle that reality and discover why women are not reaching those senior positions as frequently as men. Research by McKinsey showed that organisations need a board to include 30% of women before they have an impact as a collective voice, but that proportion is still a rarity.

Why not? A recent internal study by Sky showed that women manage their career paths differently than their male counterparts. Often a women will choose a wider-range of job roles, or slow progression up the ranks, rather than taking a quick linear approach often adopted by men. Research by LinkedIn and Ernst & Young found that men focus more on their own brand, while women overlook the need to network internally.

The panelists agreed that the solution could start with businesses acknowledging the differences in how men and women approach the career ladder. More companies should embrace flexible working hours, support female networking and educate the wider work force on different paths to senior roles.

Rachael described the positive impact of having an inspirational, female mentor and the difference that had made to her own career. She said schemes such as the Women in PR Mentoring were crucial in supporting women to reach senior roles. She believes that organisations should aim to find mentors for their female staff. Asked why, she said: “If you can’t see how it’s done, how can you do it yourself?”