Gender and PR

While the public relations industry has a much better record on gender diversity, and penetrating glass ceilings, than many other industries the situation is still complicated.

It was often thought that female PR practitioners didn’t confront the glass ceilings that women in other industries did and that pay parity was common. Back in 2014 the blog reported on US and UK research which indicated that women were a majority of PR practitioners but they were not predominant in C-suite roles – except in many consultancies – and that salary levels were still not equitable. The blog suspects that the C-suite role and salary situations are still the same in large private sector companies and organisations although not the case in politics (well at least among ALP staffers) or the public sector.

On the other hand the industry is becoming increasingly feminised and the disparity between the number of males and females among undergraduate students is such that the PRIA has been thinking about strategies to increase the number of males applying for PR courses to achieve better balance. As, at least at RMIT anyway, there are probably more female PR staff than male, the staff and undergraduate situation also gives PR boasting rights when compared with the record of conservative political parties in pre-selecting female candidates for safe seats. Moreover, having started in the industry when it was male dominated and the few women in offices looked after fashion and retail accounts the blog suspects that those concerned should ignore the ‘problem’ and just see it as the market-driven redress of an historic wrong. Indeed, it is something the industry ought to be proud of rather than seeing it as a problem.

The blog was prompted to think about all this again when the RMIT School of Media and Communications Dean, Professor Lisa French, referred staff to a UNESCO policy framework. As Professor French said: “As you may know, UNESCO has a concept/term called ‘Gender Mainstreaming’.”

“What this means is that before you act, you interrogate the gender perspective. It is a methodology which you can overlay over the development of curriculum, policy, recruitment, selection etcetera. The goal is to achieve gender equality and ensure that ‘the value of each person is recognised without prejudice’. I believe this methodology or process could be more widely used to think about diversity in all senses that we understand it.

“I recommend that you consider this idea whilst developing your courses and going about all your work at RMIT. For example, if Gender Mainstreaming were overlaid in course development, you might ask: Have you set readings written by women? Do creative works included in the course have examples by female practitioners? Where industries are considered is there consideration of female participation? Do you have women in your list of invited guest speakers or industry consultants? You get the gist!

“All that is required is that you ask the questions with a gender lens and incorporate it into your everyday consciousness. The same process could be applied for diversity by considering whether the course content includes diverse voices from different cultural backgrounds.”

Professor French is also the chief investigator on a research program which “has been initiated by, and is being conducted by the members of the UNESCO UniTWIN Network on Media, Gender and ICTs. The UniTWIN is a worldwide network of universities established following an established need to promote an integrated system of research, education and dissemination activities on Gender, Media and ICTs across world regions.”

This is could be a significant project although, not surprisingly given the United Nations nervousness about some diversity issues – or nervousness about the reaction of members such as Saudi Arabia and others – the UNESCO background material tends to constantly refer to men and women rather than LGBTI+ while wider diversity issues seem to be implicitly about ethnic diversity.

It will be interesting to see the research outputs although the research project background material seems to skew the research to journalism and mass media without explicitly including PR.

It will be doubly interesting to compare mass communication educational institutions’ performances with that of the film industry. According to The Economist (3 March 2018), the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (set up by the co-star of Thelma and Louise) has been lobbying for years to put more women and minorities in central roles. In the case of minorities Black Panther is a breakthrough, although it’s a pity it’s such an awful film, while women are doing very well in central roles in the latest Star Wars story even if the blog found it difficult to tell the difference between the plots of the first and latest Star Wars films.

The Economist also reports that Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University found that for the top 100 films in 2017 8% of directors were women compared with 4% in 2010. Now one can imagine some Hollywood PR person – male, female, LGBTI+ – putting out that this was a doubling of the number of films directed by females.