Friday, 12 March 2010

Will PR break down the glass ceiling?

"Because PR is mostly female, the negative impacts associated with being female also impact negatively on PR” - Larissa Grunig

It is safe to say that over the last decade women have entered PR at a much faster rate than men. Several scholars have published articles on the feminist theory in public relations and gender segregation in the field. According to a 2005 research by the Centre for Economic and Business Research, two thirds of PR practitioners are women. The statistics and figures are all there so, at a first glance, we would be inclined to say that PR is a profession done and managed by women in the grand majority. And the assumption would prove to be correct...up until the management part.

Taking a closer look at the numbers, we actually see that entry and middle level positions are indeed dominated by women, while managerial positions, fewer in number but much more likely to stand out in the public sphere, are dominated by men. For example, if we look at lists of people in key management positions from big international PR agencies - like Hill & Knowlton, Bell Pottinger Group or Weber Shandwick - we notice that around three quarters of those mentioned are men.

 The so called fathers of PR are supposed to be Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee. Who is the mother of PR then? Pop culture would have us believe that it's Samantha Jones, with the skimpy skirts, see-through blouses, luxurious parties and outrageous lifestyle. Whereas the true PR professionals are represented by the men like Alastair Campbell, in their Armani suits and high end public positions.

The cynical and common view on the issue of women in PR is that they are more complacent with what they have, that they show no ambitions to climb the corporate ladder, don't have the motivation or skills to achieve higher goals or that once they reach their 30s they are eager to give it all up so they can stay home, have babies and cater to their families' needs. The sad part is that a lot of times these assumptions and perspectives comes from and are promoted by women themselves. And, of course, there is the view that the ones that do go after PR careers are the Sam Jones equivalents, whose only real skills are organising parties and looking pretty while doing it.

PR isn't half as glamorous as the creators of Kim Cattrall's character would like us to think it is, but this doesn't necessarily mean that women shouldn't look fabulous while doing a great job. There is no reason why women in PR shouldn't be able to rock a pair of Jimmy Choos, accompanied by a Birkin Bag, while still being a respected practitioner.

What I find to be a more plausible explanation for the low number of women in CEO positions is that, generally, the representatives of this gender have been more willing to take the back seat and not as eager to be in the spotlight. Which is what PR is really all about: running things from behind the stage, while promoting front figures into the public eye. A lot of men let their egos get the best of them, making it more likely for them to want and need to be in the limelight. To get there they aim at being appointed in key managerial positions. But what actually happens is they stop being PR practitioners; they become managers, with manager like qualities, skills and responsibilities. While the real practice of PR is left up to the women in the industry.

However, what I think will happen is that the tables will start to turn: there has been a too big of an inflow of women into the industry over the past decade for the trends not to change. Moreover, more and more women are developing career focused ambitions, which is proven, for one, by the large number of (mostly female) candidates applying for MAs in PR in the last few years.

Women today are more than up for the challenge and they are already starting to break through in managerial positions, especially where it comes to the agency and corporate sector. In Romania, for example, PR is very young and feminine and most of the top PR agencies are run and staffed by women. This fact was also noticed by Richard Linning, IPRA president, in November 2009 when he awarded the Golden World Awards during the IPRA gala in Bucharest.

Women will lead the PR industry sooner than we might think. Sure, there is the Mommy track issue, but thanks to new technologies and innovations the incompatibility between a having family life and a CEO position is starting to slowly fade away. And, let's not forget, like my classmate Gaye said in class: kids grow up, they don't stay babies forever! Women are no longer avoiding the responsibilities that come with a managerial position; they are increasingly going after them. Moreover, the new generation of women in PR, as busy as they might be making their clients look good, they will take the time out to promote themselves and surely leave a notable mark onto the industry in years to come.

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