Posted At: January 1, 2008 9:40 AM
by Erin Ireland
The public relations field seems to be dominated by women. Women are making great strides in the industry and are being nationally recognized for their success. But, if there are so many women in the public relations field, why are there so few women CEOs and entrepreneurs, especially in the South?
Lydia Wilbanks, owner of WilbanksElam in Birmingham, Ala., successfully started her own public relations agency in 2001. As a female entrepreneur, Wilbanks overcame many obstacles that male entrepreneurs are not faced with. For example, every strong male close to Wilbanks told her she would not be successful. That, however, drove her to persevere. In 2006, WilbanksElam saw a 60 percent increase in revenue, after opening only five years earlier. Today it is the largest public relations firm in Alabama.
Female entrepreneurs are a new concept for many male businessmen, especially in the South. Forty years ago, women were expected to be housewives. Today women are starting their own businesses and becoming CEOs of multi-million dollar corporations.
According to Wilbanks, in terms of women entrepreneurs, the South seems to be moving at an even slower pace than the rest of the country. Wilbanks does not feel that southern businesses are any more accustomed to female entrepreneurs than five years ago, when she opened her business.
“Many male executives, especially southern men, are not used to working with powerful women, whether they are powerful in terms of their work or powerful in terms of their personality,” Wilbanks said.
Males are not the only ones to blame for the lack of female entrepreneurs. Some women are just not comfortable with power.
“I know a lot of great female businesswomen, but I don’t know many who feel comfortable in their role as a female businesswoman. I think the majority of females work at the hands and permission of the male business environment,” Wilbanks said.
Wilbanks set out to have a largely female staff because she wanted to be surrounded by strong women. Wilbanks decided to partner with a male, Bill Elam, who is the other half of her strength. Some clients only want to work with male executives, and WilbanksElam is able to cater to each client’s needs. The agency now has five female and three male employees.
“All of the men are extremely comfortable working with women and there is never a bias,” Wilbanks said.
As if she was not busy enough, Wilbanks also juggles being a mother. In the same month she opened her business, she gave birth to her third child. Balancing work and being a mother have been a very important mantra for her.
“I am teaching my children that a mom can also work and I hope that this lesson leads my daugthers to the workplace and my son to a woman who works,” she said.
What advice does Wilbanks have for those wishing to start their own company? “You need to have a strong stomach, drive and perseverance. And I think it was my ambition that got me through it—you have to really want it bad because they do not make it easy for you,” she said
Email: Lydia Wilbanks
What other obstacles do you think women or men face in the public relations industry?