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Missing in Action: Where Are the Men in Public Relations Classrooms?

Published on April 27, 2023, at 5:55 p.m.
by Kate Amberson and Helen Carson.

Public relations is a growing field that has become integral to nearly every industry. Whether it be nonprofit organizations, large universities or major corporations, most establishments utilize public relations in some form or fashion. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women comprise 64.3% of the public relations industry. Although women dominate the field, as many

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as 78% of CEOs in the public relations industry are men.

Seth Self, a former writer and editor for Platform Magazine, said it best in his article “Missing in Action: Where Are the Men in Public Relations?”: “Men remain overwhelmingly in positions of leadership, despite this imbalance among professionals as a whole. This can lead to misperceptions of the field being as male-dominated in the middle as it is at the top.”

While men are predominantly in leadership positions today, there is a lack of men in public relations classrooms. In the future, male representation in the industry will only decline as men do not choose to pursue public relations. At The University of Alabama in 2020-2021, women made up 81% of the 317 graduates who majored in public relations and advertising.

Lindsey Carnett, CEO and president of Marketing Maven, believes that men not choosing to pursue public relations could potentially result from newer and more specific majors, such as sports marketing.

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“I think that maybe some of the men are going toward sports marketing because it’s a newer major,” said Carnett. “I could also see some men wanting to go straight for the business category in general and skip over PR or get an MBA to get to the top faster.”

Generally, the PR industry is beginning to see more women in leadership positions. However, there is still a significant lack of men in the field and women in high-ranking positions.

Thomas Bennett, senior vice president of healthy equity at FleishmanHillard, said, “There is no excuse for it, but we are working to fix the crux of the situation.”

On the other hand, Carnett believes that the issue has more ramifications for the future if female dominance of the industry continues to grow. “Currently, there’s a lot of male leadership at the top in the PR space, even owners of agencies,” said Carnett. “Theoretically, 20 years from now, the majority of agencies should be owned by women, and the leadership should be majority women as well.”

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The PR industry must change to create a more inclusive environment in the field and the classroom. The PR field is different from most in that it is primarily made up of women; however, there still must be a push to create equal opportunities for all professionals, beginning at the college level.

“Yes, it’s an issue, but what am I doing about it? And what am I getting people to do about it?” asked Bennett. These simple questions start a step in the right direction.

Public relations needs to work on its reputation first instead of solely concerning itself with the reputation of others. Today, public relations can be confused with influencers and social media marketing or associated with “publicity stunts.” The general public does not truly understand the job of public relations professionals. The first step to becoming more inclusive might be spreading awareness of the profession so that men become more interested in the industry.

Bennett said that taking steps to be more inclusive comes from awareness and mentorship throughout the industry. In addition, Bennett explained that there is “a lack of knowledge and understanding among males in this profession.”

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Not only is it crucial to increase male involvement in the profession for inclusivity purposes, but it is also essential to have male perspectives to relate to a wide range of consumers. Targeting specific demographics is integral to public relations and understanding publics can make or break a campaign.

“Bringing a male perspective to the table is highly valuable because we’re working with products and services for men and women,” said Carnett. “We have such a wide variety of clients that if we don’t have representation of those demographics internally, it makes it a lot more difficult for us to market those products or services.”

Carnett emphasized the importance of inviting men into the female-dominated industry at the college level. She said that it is “the responsibility of women to invite more men to start participating in some of these events.”

The responsibility of creating a more inclusive environment is not solely on the women of the public relations industry, however. It is also the job of the men in the industry and those in leadership positions to display the opportunities the field offers. Becoming a mentor, speaker or leading by example are small steps that can make a big difference. Carnett said, “It’s the tale of us being stronger together.”

“In any kind of profession, you need balance,” stated Bennett. He noted the importance of partnerships and industry communication when asked about ways to create a more equitable environment. Conversing with other agencies or companies in

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the industry and collaborating to make the PR industry a more inclusive work environment and hold each other accountable is essential. Bennett emphasized that much of the work to fix this situation begins internally for the industry.

The public relations profession is an ever-changing industry. With professionals like Bennett and Carnett, this industry is moving in the right direction ethically and inclusively. As stated more than once before, “the first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one.”

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