Four women on a panel discuss leadership challenges at Global Women in PR conference

Why Are There So Many Women in Public Relations?

Think of women in PR and the likes of SATC’s Samantha Jones or Ab Fab’s s Eddie Monsoon spring to mind, wafting through glamorous events clutching a glass of champagne. But if you’re a woman in public relations you already know that it’s often hard graft and long hours and rarely a champagne glass in sight.

But one thing is true: the PR industry is a dominated by women in terms of numbers. But why? We took a look at why women are so successful in PR.

Women and Public Relations: The Perfect Marriage

Generally – and I say this because we all know some guys who are like this too – women have a multifaceted skillset and can multitask. So they’re good at attention to detail, getting on with people, being creative and being curious. All skills needed for a successful PR career.

Women are active listeners too. We’re often more in tune with our clients’ needs, more empathetic and more able to understand the challenges faced by our clients. And we’re more social. So we’re more able to collaborate effectively and creatively.

Our lack of huge egos (known in the business as ‘willy-waving’) means we’re less likely to want to impress and show-off. Rather, we just want to get the job done and done well.

Plus, we have our legendary ability to multitask. It may be true that men have better capacity for mental rotation. But women nearly always outperform men when it comes to spatial memory and carrying out multiple tasks at once. Handy when we have to scroll through the news, answer the phone, deal with an urgent issue and come up with a quick solution.

What Attracts Women to PR

So once they’re in industry, women seem to excel. But why are there so many women in PR to begin with?

Do women come into the industry because they have the skills to succeed? Or is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? It may be because women are attracted to an industry that already has more women working in it then men, so they feel they will be supported and encouraged. So more join each year and so it goes on. Or is it because women are encouraged to do communications, creative and media degrees at university and are actively discouraged from undertaking engineering or maths?

And how about the guys? Why don’t they consider PR a worthwhile career? Is it because they consider it too fluffy? (We’re back to Samantha Jones again!)

But PR has changed so much in the last couple of decades. Now you need to be technical and strategic, as well as having all the skills traditionally associated with PR as mentioned above. Plus jobs in PR are on the rise while jobs in journalism – an occupation traditionally dominated by men – are falling. So perhaps we will start to see more men move into the PR industry in the future. And that’s a good thing.

The PR industry has long been a champion of good causes from environmental challenges and diversity in the workplace to sustainability and gender representation. We know that greater diversity leads to better ideas and a more efficient and proactive workforce. So it would be nice to think that at the next intake of young PR executives straight out of university, there will a better gender balance between men and women.

Women as PR leaders

So with all these women working in the PR industry, statistically there must be lots of women working in leadership roles, right? Wrong.

Yes, there are some women blazing a trail (see Women in PR: Who to Follow below). But despite the fact women in PR make up 66% of the workforce (according to the PR and Communications Census 2018) that figure isn’t reflected at a leadership level, with the majority of leadership roles still filled by men.

According to a survey by PR Week from the end of 2018, only 39% of leadership roles in the PR industry are filled by women.

What’s going on here? What’s stopping women in public relations getting into leadership roles? Why are they being side-lined during the leadership process? There are a few schools of thought. All male (the so-called old-boy) networks still have a part to play. Managing directors are still mostly men and are more likely to appoint another man into a leadership role. And the problems around family commitments and a work/life balance is still an ongoing issue in many workplaces.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel. According to The Holmes Report, the PR industry seems to be making a concerted effort to address issues around parental leave and flexible working to make taking that next step up a more attractive proposition for women. Secondly, sisters are doing it for themselves and setting up their own agencies where they write their own rules. Men, too, are more ‘woke’ in these post #metoo days and are perhaps more aware of their own unconscious bias when it comes to promoting women into leadership roles in the PR industry.

It’s slow progress. But hopefully there will be a more balanced representation around the boardroom in the future.

Useful websites for women in the PR sector

Women in PR website

Women in PR

Women in PR aims to increase the number and diversity of women in leadership roles in PR and communications, and actively supports gender balance in the boardroom.

Women in PR supports women in the industry by:

  • Inspiring women in PR to reach their leadership potential through relevant speakers, events and content
  • Enabling women in PR to build their personal networks and connect with experienced, senior female leaders
  • Empowering women to achieve leadership through mentoring, training, content and events
  • Advocating changes to working practices, culture and policy to enable more women to achieve leadership

Women in PR has also participated in a UK government gender pay consultation alongside the PRCA and PR Week.

PR Week and Women in PR Mentoring Scheme

PR Week and Women in PR also run a joint mentoring scheme. The scheme was set up support women working in public relations into leadership roles through a year-long mentoring programme with senior PR mentors.

Top tips for women working in PR

Are you a woman who wants to work in PR? Or maybe you already do. Here are a few ideas for a long and successful career in public relations.

Find a mentor

Work with a mentor via programmes such as the PRWeek and Women in PR mentor scheme. Or work informally with someone in the office. Either way find someone (male or female) who you can go to for support and advice and who is willing to share their knowledge and experience with you.

Join a network

Whether you’re returning to work, you work on your own or you’re working at an agency, being part of a supportive and understanding network is crucial for career advancement and your personal well-being. Take a look at Women in PR.

Meet real people

This doesn’t apply so much if you’re a woman working in a PR agency or an in-house comms team. But if you’re working independently as a PR consultant, make sure you schedule time for real-life conversations in person. Email and WhatsApp are fine. But nothing beats a face-to-face meeting over a coffee with a mentor, colleague or friend.

Pick your own path

Decide what success looks like for you and stick to it. You may want to head up your own PR consultancy or work as a freelancer. Or lead the comms department or be the boss of an international PR agency. Or you may want a better work life balance to pursue non-work interests or have more time with your family. A successful PR career and a family life are not mutually exclusive. Think about what’s right for you and go for it.

Support other women

It’s important to find your cheerleaders – those like-minded people who will support you, recommend you, hire you and promote you. But remember to support other women in the PR industry too, whether that’s through mentoring, speaking up in a meeting or helping someone put a presentation together. Or it could be as simple as a shout out on Twitter or a LinkedIn recommendation.

Find like-minded women, show a little sisterly solidarity and give someone the support they need to succeed.

Keep learning

As they say: every day’s a school day. It’s important to keep learning and developing your skillset, whether that’s keeping up to speed with the latest developments in technology or learning how to manage people better. Don’t rest on your laurels. Continuous professional development (CPD) is a must.

Women in PR: Who to follow

In no particular order, here are some women in public relations who are at the top of their game and worth a follow on Twitter.

Rachel Friend, UK and Ireland CEO, London, Weber Shandwick

Rachel Friend, UK and Ireland CEO, London, Weber Shandwick

Rachel Friend, UK and Ireland CEO, London, Weber Shandwick

Rachel has 20+ years’ experience, mostly in consumer marketing but also in social purpose and corporate responsibility campaigns for some of the world’s leading brands, including Centrica, HSBC and Nespresso.

She has run the London office since 2015 and has helped the agency scoop a load of awards, including PRWeek Consultancy of the Year. Before joining Weber Shandwick, she was head of consumer PR at Sainsbury’s. She also spent nine years at H+K Strategies, rising to the position of managing director, consumer marketing.

Follow her @RachelFriendly

Bibi Hilton, Managing Director, Golin London

Bibi Hilton, MD, Golin London

Bibi Hilton, MD, Golin London

Bibi Hilton is one of London’s top agency chiefs and has been the president of Women in PR since January 2018.

At Golin, she set up a returnship programme for women coming back into the workplace after a lengthy break and has introduced and championed flexible working. In 2018, she launched Golin B&B to drive applications from outside of London and to make their London-based internship accessible to everyone, irrespective of where someone lives.

Follow her @hiltonbibi

Barri Rafferty, Partner, CEO and President at Ketchum

Barri Rafferty, Partner, CEO and President at Ketchum

Barri Rafferty, Partner, CEO and President at Ketchum

When she became the agency’s CEO in 2018, Rafferty became the first woman to lead a top five global PR firm. She oversees Ketchum’s global offices, Ketchum Digital and Ketchum Sports & Entertainment (KSE).

She joined Ketchum in 1994 and has been its global president since July 2016. She has also served as its CEO of North America, led its global brand marketing practice and worked as director of Ketchum’s New York office. She has worked with the likes of Gillette, P&G, Wendy’s, 3M, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

She is an advocate for women’s leadership and has spoken extensively about gender parity and unconscious bias.

Follow her @barrirafferty

Rebecca Grant, CEO BCW Global (Burson Cohn & Wolfe)

Rebecca Grant, CEO BCW Global (Burson Cohn & Wolfe)

Rebecca Grant, CEO BCW Global

Grant left her position as UK MD at Cohn & Wolfe in October 2018 after eight years, where she also spent five years leading the agency’s EMEA and UK consumer practice, to head up the UK division of the newly-merged BCW.

Her career history has included senior roles at agencies including Red Consultancy and Weber Shandwick, where she was senior director and co-head consumer, Europe.

Follow her @tweetsfrombex

Nik Govier, Co-Founder, Blurred

Nik Govier, Co-Founder, Blurred

Nik Govier, Co-Founder, Blurred

Govier set up successful consumer PR agency Unity in the early noughties and went on to win numerous awards, including the Best Consumer Agency in the World award. She left the agency she founded at the beginning of 2018 and took eight months off.

She launched her latest venture, Blurred, in October 2018.

Follow her on Twitter @nikdone

Esra Erkal-Paler, Chief Global Corporate Affairs, Coty Inc

Esra Erkal-Paler, Chief Global Corporate Affairs, Coty Inc

Esra Erkal-Paler, Chief Global Corporate Affairs, Coty Inc

In 2018, big-hitter Erkal-Paler joined Coty as a member of the executive committee and is responsible for global internal and external communications strategies. Prior to that she was global head of media relations at AstraZeneca from 2011.

She has also been executive director of policy and communications at the Advertising Standards Authority, director of corporate comms and external affairs at L’Oréal and head of corporate affairs at Unilever.

Follow her @EEPaler

Sue Garrard, Sue Garrard Consulting

Sue Garrard, Sue Garrard Consulting

Sue Garrard, Sue Garrard Consulting

In 2011, Garrard left her role at the Department of Work and Pensions to join Unilever, and for eight years worked as executive vice-president, sustainable business and comms, in charge of implementing Unilever’s Sustainability Living Plan.

At the beginning of 2019, she left Unilever to set up Sue Garrard Consulting Limited as a sustainability strategy advisor.

Follow her @Sue_Garrard

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