The PR glass ceiling

The PR industry has always been remarkable in one way – it was thought to be one of the few industries which had been feminised without leading to the reduction in salary levels which has been common among many industries and job categories, such as 19th century clerking jobs and modern day teaching, which have experienced the same change.

Stand in an undergraduate lecture theatre at any PR course around the world and it is striking how few males there are in the class. Look through industry publication photographs and see the same situation. ….and yet is the picture quite so positive?

Tony Jaques has circulated a recent PR Daily article to the Australia-Pacific PR academic network which suggests the situation is a bit more complicated than thought. See . The article follows a longer piece in The Atlantic magazine

The article suggests that in the US industry “women comprise 63 percent of PR specialist roles and 59 percent of PR management positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, many believe that females are underrepresented at the C-level in PR.”

The Atlantic piece sounds some of the normal notes: the influence of the Samantha syndrome Sex and the City; the low wages and job insecurity of journalism; and greater opportunities for women in PR rather than journalism. The Atlantic sample size is not that great – 10 practitioners – but the BLS figures, which show that women outnumber men in PR specialist and PR manager (a title which can mean many things) jobs, seemingly confirm what was the conventional wisdom. As an aside, the BLS data shows that men still outnumber women in media reporting jobs and whether this is indicative of culture or some other factor is interesting to think about.

A different perspective is given by Dr Liz Yeomans, of Leeds Metropolitan University, in an email responding to Tony’s alert: “I very recently led a two week European-funded international summer school on the theme of gender issues in PR, including academic and practitioner perspectives on the reasons why there are so few women at the senior levels. Indeed I wrote a blog entry on the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations website on the ‘gender gap’ in PR.”

According to Dr Yeoman’s research “with up to 70% of the profession numerically feminised in some European countries” there are comparatively few women in senior level roles. Reviewing some of the literature on the subject she points to cultural factors; ‘negotiated resignation’ or invisible barriers to top jobs; and opting for consensus and ‘getting’ along’ rather than the more vocal campaigns of women in in broadcasting protesting about sex and age discrimination.

The UK Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is developing a diversity strategy which is based on the gender gap being real and looking at practical actions which might be taken. This reality is exemplified by the CIPR 2014 State of the Profession survey which showed an average gender pay of gap of more than 12,000 pounds sterling in favour of men and that, from Account Manager/Press Officer level and above men, on average, are paid more than women when performing the same role. In March this year the CIPR also launched a ‘Mind the Gap’ survey which gathered more than 200 responses in two days.

The CIPR is also looking at strategies to promote female PR practitioners in senior roles; provide combine assertiveness/legislation workshops to help practitioners negotiate salary packages and understand their legal rights; and develop frameworks for flexible working and better management of maternity leave arrangements. This could also be a priority for the new PRIA leadership as, while there is a bit about diversity on the website, the blog is not aware of similar programs here.

There has also been some Australian research in the area including that by Kate Fitch and Amanda Third, published in the PRism 2010 special edition on gender in PR, which skewered the industry for its habit of consistently favouring male keynote conference speakers when there were potential female candidates. The blog’s impressionistic observation of many PR conferences over the years is that the gender representation on stage is normally the obverse of the gender representation in the audience. While this may be unscientific and impressionistic it is still suggestive. Perhaps a trawl through all the PRIA Conference programs over some decades would provide the basis for analysis of speakers around gender, splits between corporate and consultancy, attendance, sub-disciplines within PR and other productive areas.

In the meantime on the specific subject of gender in PR Dr Yeomans says: “If anyone is interested in collaborating on cross-cultural research in this area (and getting some funding to support this), do get in touch.”