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Women: Influencing Public Relations, One Step at a Time

Posted on February 5, 2016, at 1:40 p.m.
by Shelby Bonner.

According to a Public Relations Society of America report, around 70 percent of its members are women. There are a million theories as to why women dominate PR, but one thing’s for certain — women do great things in PR.

The impact
“Studies have shown that women tend to collaborate more and prefer to work on teams,” said Jennifer Hellickson, director of marketing at SweatGuru in Portland, Oregon. Being able to work effectively on a team is essential in public relations.

According to Gini Dietrich, founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich and author of Spin Sucks, “The industry is made up mostly of women so we have a unique advantage.” Dietrich further explained, “[In the industry] you have women talking to women. And women building relationships with women.”

However, this is just one of the many ways that women are helping to better other women and the industry.

As Jenna Thomas, senior director of digital public relations and social media marketing at Nebo Agency, pointed out, “It’s now largely a female-dominated industry. We’re also seeing more and more women holding influential positions in media — from well-known bloggers with strong followings to women holding editor-in-chief or publisher positions — who are working directly with PR professionals. This shift has helped shine a light on some important campaigns and philanthropic efforts that support female issues and causes.”

Even with the high numbers of women in management positions across the PR industry, only 30 percent of global firms are run by women, according to last year’s World PR Report. There are 39 firms between $99 million and $40 million, only nine of which are run by women. Despite the other 210 firms that sit below the $40 million mark and have a higher ratio of women in charge, the percentage is still below the 50 percent range. Once you get further down to the firms with less than $40 million in fee income, only about 30 percent are run by at least one woman.

Chart from The Holmes Report

The gender pay gap is just one challenge that all women in the industry must face. Dietrich shared her recent struggle with it: “I recently had an experience where I was invited to speak in Chicago at a large PR event. When I quoted my speaking fee, I was told I was too expensive.” Dietrich continued, “Fast forward two months to the event, and I learned they flew a male peer in to speak at the event. This person charges twice what I charge, and they paid his expenses because they had to fly him in from another city. It was the first time I was faced directly with such a slap in the face from the pay gap. But that’s less PR than overall working women.”

Dietrich said that situations like that only make her more stubborn. To overcome those types of issues, she openly talks about such examples “so women are empowered to stand up for themselves, to negotiate for what they want, and to not let anything like this get them down.” Dietrich went on to say, “Sure, I’m upset about it, but I can either dwell on it or do something about it. I choose the latter.”

Although women are the majority in the public relations industry, not everyone will see us as equals. “Within our society, inequality between males and females in professional roles is still a major issue,” Thomas explained. “Every woman who enters the field of public relations, takes that next step in her career or who serves as a mentor or role model for others, helps move us toward a better place of gender equality.”

However, “a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor” and professional women everywhere can attest to that. There will be hard times, but they will be well worth it. It’s important to remember that there are people out there who are rooting for us. As Thomas said, “I feel lucky that my career has been focused within a field that is largely comprised of women. I’ve been even luckier to work for companies that do support career advancement for deserving women and embrace female leadership.”

Philip N. Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland College Park, did a survey and found that 47 percent of women public relations specialists and managers majored in communications, journalism, English, advertising and public relations, business and mass media — all of which are majors that would lead them to a career in the public relations field. So, we’ll see you soon.

A little inspiration
“Public relations is an industry that is challenging, yet exciting. I would recommend to anyone entering the field of public relations to find a place where they can work on campaigns or with clients that they are passionate about – whether that be a role with a large global agency or a position with a small internal communications team. If you love what you do and are passionate about your work, that inevitably will help you excel and put you on a path for success.” — Jenna Thomas

“I have hired many, many young women in my own firm and find the majority of them do pull back because they think they might get married or they might have kids. So what if you get married or have kids? Why does that have to prevent you from working toward a promotion at work? Negotiate hard. Ask for what you want. Show real results. The PR industry is made up of 70 percent women. We should be ruling the top levels, but we don’t. Let’s get there!” — Gini Dietrich

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