More than a Pink Collar Education

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Posted on March 11, 2016, at 3:00 p.m.
by Kala Brumbaugh.

As a public relations major at a prominent university, I have encountered many different students throughout my classes. Whether I was meeting new people or seeing similar faces, I could not help but notice the lack of male students in the room. My classes are majority women and very few men.

Industry trends and statistics show that public relations is dominated by women. PR has been referred to as a “Pink Ghetto” or “Pink Collar,” a negative term used to describe an industry dominated by women and the challenges they face in furthering their careers. Almost 85 percent of the industry consists of female professionals, and it seems PR education is not far behind.

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Jill O’Mahony Stewart, who has been teaching writing for public relations at DePaul University for eight years, discussed the trends and her role as a PR educator in a top program.

“My PR class at Boston University was about 50/50, and I think ever since then it has been declining steadily,” Stewart said.

Dr. Meg Lamme has been a PR professor for more than 15 years and has spent nearly 11 years as a faculty member of The University of Alabama advertising and PR department. She also commented on the shortage of males in her classes.

“In the most recent undergrad class I taught last fall, I think there was one man in that class,” Lamme said. “I had the same experience for one of my master’s classes, but there are always fewer men in my graduate classes.”

An article written by Olga Khazan examined the results of Phillip Cohen’s analysis of female percentages in college majors. Khazan noted a key finding by Cohen “that while women are majoring in formerly male-dominated fields like psychology and biology in greater numbers, the share of female computer-science majors has actually declined since the mid-1980s. The share of men in traditionally female fields like education, English, and social work, however, has barely budged.”

Khazan also mentioned that the study suggests women value the non-monetary aspects of their educations more so than their male counterparts.

“I think that PR was a foot-in-the-management door for women,” Stewart said. “I don’t think that salaries in PR have kept up with salaries in other areas so men are more likely to be interested and attracted to better paying fields.”

With the growing influence of technology and social media, more jobs are created and the versatility of a communications degree expands. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for PR specialists is growing by six percent each year. This continual growth means more students in PR programs across the country.

Stewart noted that a public relations degree can be quite valuable, but it still depends on the individuals themselves.

“Has the individual taken all the complementary courses? Do they have other skills or a depth in some area?” Stewart questioned. “I see a lot of my students getting minors to really strengthen their skills.”

Lamme had similar remarks about the value of a PR education on individuals and explained how programs are evolving.

“It depends on how you take advantage of the opportunities within your major and how hungry you are,” Lamme said. “You’re not going to get everything you need in a classroom. We hope it gives you the tools to take with you to grow and develop and hone. I think there is an expectation about PR being a skills-based major but increasingly, we’re a strategy and critical thinking major, and what I would like us to move into is thought leadership.”

While we see more women choosing to study in the communications field rather than men, this does not seem to be the case with the professors in these programs.

“In the PR department at DePaul, we are pretty evenly represented,” Stewart said.

The advertising and public relations department at The University of Alabama is relatively balanced as well, with 12 male and nine female professors.

“I’ve always thought of us as pretty evenly split,” Lamme said.

It is no secret that women in some professions have to work a little harder to earn respect than their male colleagues, but some studies suggest the same for female professors.

An article by Anya Kamenetz discussed the results from a study done on student evaluations of professors. The results showed that male professors ranked higher across the board, even if they had the same comments and qualifications as a female professor.

However, Stewart and Lamme were happy to say they had not particularly experienced or observed these biases.

“That’s not something I have encountered,” Lamme said. “I’ve always had very good working relationships, and I can’t think of any instance in my own experience where being a woman versus a man in PR affected anything.”

“I just haven’t experienced anything that I would consider gender-based challenges in our program,” Stewart said. “We’re pretty collaborative and cooperative.”

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Both professors emphasized the importance of inclusion in PR programs in the future. Minorities are also underrepresented in public relations. Some recruiting for diverse students has been done at the high school level, and Dr. Kenon Brown, a member of PR faculty at UA, has received a grant from The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations for research on this topic.

“PR is really in a position to lead by example with inclusion because we engage with so many different groups of stakeholders,” Lamme said. “We reach out to huge numbers of individuals who self-identify across different groups; it could be demographic, lifestyle or community outreach. There are lots of different ways we identify ourselves, and all of those ways are very important to us in terms of creating relationships. It would be great if we could demonstrate that leadership in the way we build our own field.”

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