In August 2015, we here at PR reported that over 72% of public relations professionals are women. What’s more, in recent years, women-owned PR firms continue to experience greater success than those owned by men. In short, public relations is gaining a reputation for its friendliness to female professionals.
Because of this, the profession attracts an increasing number of strategic and business-savvy women to firms across the world. As encouraging as this development is, there still remains issues with the gender balance in public relations.
Many experts studying the trend point out that given the percentage of women represented in PR, the number of men with the highest-paying and most powerful roles in the industry is deeply uneven. This also begs the question: why aren’t more men attracted to the field? Hopefully, research on these issues can provide a more productive PR environment for all.
In an analysis of 250 PR firms, the Holmes Report discovered that only 75 feature a woman in the lead position. While this is comparable to statistics on women across various industry sectors, it’s worthy of examination in light of the field’s predominantly female employee base.
Of the top ten globally-ranked PR firms, only one is headed by a woman (Susan Gilchrist of The Brunswick Group). Additionally, only one includes women in more than 50% of high-level positions (Weber Shandwick). This may arise from the fact that men are still widely viewed and employed as business leaders across all sectors. This trend is even more significant amongst the most profitable businesses: only 4.4% of CEOS in the S&P 500 are female.
While the gender gap in public relations leadership is worth noting, it’s not nearly as pronounced as in many leading industries; such as, energy, manufacturing and electronics corporations. As a newly emerging field, public relations is not nearly as well-established as others, which may account for this.
Though it hasn’t deviated from the trend of predominantly male leadership, it also benefits from experiencing its greatest periods of growth after a large number of women entered the workforce. One reason for this rests in the fact that women are almost primed for work in the field due to socialization and gender stereotypes.
Whether true or not, most people of both sexes view females as good communicators, and risk-averse. Women also show greater capacity for working together as a team than their male counterparts. Though only generalizations, this would account for the high rates of female hires in the field.
It also speaks to why relatively few women make it to the top. These traits may make women good PR employees, but they do not always lead to high-level positions.
For women to make their way into leading positions at PR firms, executives must see them not only as good communicators, but good negotiators, who aren’t afraid of taking risks. The success of female-owned PR firms reflects that this is not only possible amongst female CEOs, but a very likely reality.
Another factor affecting the gender balance at the lower levels in PR is that men tend to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) at the college level at greater rates than women. The skillsets gained in these areas do not necessarily prepare one for a communications-focused field, leaving entry-level jobs in PR open to more women (who generally graduate with college degrees at a higher rate than men).
Since this may account for the high presence of women in PR, it may ultimately boost the trend of female leadership in the sector, as more women gain real-world experience as public relations specialists.
Overall, the picture is very inspiring: women have taken the helms at everything from global agencies to small boutique firms, and they are doing well. Experts should continue to watch this trend, as more women will move into greater positions of power in this expanding world of public relations.