Posted: March 16, 2015, 10:13 a.m.
by Esther Workman.
Public relations is a female-saturated industry dominated by males. But not for long.
According to a 2010 Ragan study, the PR industry is 85 percent female, and yet, 80 percent of upper-level management is male. Those numbers are overwhelming. How and why do 15 percent of industry practitioners overcome such great odds and find themselves at the top of the PR food chain?
Peter Sparber, founder and owner of Sparber and Associates Inc., said, “You still see a lot of it [gender inequality] in industries. I don’t really understand it. You do your work, meet your goals, and you get promoted. It has nothing to do with gender. I am astonished when I hear statistics like that because I just don’t get it.”
Regardless, men have always found their way to the top. Hundreds of years ago when men were out hunting and gathering, the women were left behind to survive as a group. Maybe that is where we learned the importance of communication and why our industry is predominantly female.
Many studies have shown women are better communicators than men. PR Daily spoke to Aaron Perlut, managing partner of Elasticity, who said that a woman’s ability to communicate gives her a unique skill in public relations. Female practitioners have a special willingness to understand their target audience and deliver what their audience needs.
“I think women are better at maintaining relationships not only with clients but with employees as well. While men tend to have the big picture ideas, women do that along with handling the details, providing strategy, maintaining relationships and executing plans — all essential qualities in having a successful PR career,” said Mary Elizabeth Roberson, an account supervisor with Peritus PR.
The National Communication Association states that women are more flexible and can adjust their communication depending on who they are speaking to, while men are more consistent across situations. Part of being an influential manager is asserting authority through strong communication and knowing how to handle a variety of situations.
Public relations is a business designed to target earned media opportunities through press releases, email pitches and proposals. A female’s command of language allows her to reach journalists and publishers in a more effective and comprehensive way.
While it is impossible to generalize that all women have better communication skills than men in the industry, it is an interesting concept when considering the future of public relations leaders and anticipated changes in the workforce as a whole.
In 2012, the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations conducted a cross-cultural study of leadership in public relations and communications management prepared by Dr. Bruce Berger. The findings are as follows: participants indicated strongly that women and men can be equally capable leaders; however, more men and women indicated they preferred to work for a male leader.
“Perhaps women and men feel that a male leader is likely to be more straight forward,” Berger said. “Perhaps they feel men have better connections at higher levels and can open doors and facilitate social connections that will be advantageous.”
As luck would have it, male dominance is on the downslope according to an article published by The Atlantic. More women than men are graduating from college with degrees, and of the 15 professions projected to grow the most in the next decade in the United States, all but two are occupied primarily by women, one of them being public relations.
More female professionals in our industry could mean a power shift in the coming years. A 2008 study by Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland found that firms that had women in top positions performed better and were more innovative. These changes are validated by a female’s empathy, lateral-thinking and consensus-seeking capabilities.
“There will always be the glass ceiling, but I think more women are identifying opportunities to break this glass ceiling and finding ways to achieve the work/life balance,” Roberson said.
Rather than hoping for progression, these women are paving their own ways to success.
And men are taking notice.
“Communication is more about listening than talking. And women are great listeners,” Sparber said. “I came to depend on the women in my firm as anchors in the storm. They were calm, confident and competent. They simply got it done.”
The public relations industry is due for a change. While men have previously been successful leaders, females are taking a stand for themselves and what they do best.
“The best communicators are agents of change.”