I’ve produced this infographic as part of my presentation at next week’s International History of Public Relations Conference. My paper aims to foreground the career experiences of women working in public relations in Britain during the 1970s and 1980s. As well as reviewing the existing historical literature (where the presence of women is largely missing) and conducting qualitative interviews, I wanted to put the story into some statistical context.
Although the veracity of any data is impossible to verify, it does provide heuristic knowledge of the increased feminization of the field of public relations over the past four decades. During the 1970s and 1980s, the data indicates the percentage of women in PR in the UK increased from around 10% to 40% – from one to four in every ten practitioners. This has risen further in the last twenty years to almost seven in ten practitioners.
At the same time, the occupation itself has employed an increasing number of people. Here, I feel data reflects guestimates – but from 4,000 in 1960, to 10,000 in 1986 and 35,000 in 1989. This final figure (from a report in the Institute of Public Relations directory of 1990), was said to include 15,000 support personnel.
Last year’s PR Census reported a figure of 61,600 people employed in the occupation. A very rough calculation suggests under 1,000 women were employed in public relations in the UK at the start of the 1970s; compared to around 40,000 today. The ‘tipping point’ to a majority female occupation in the UK would appear to have occurred around the end of the last century; over a decade behind the US.
Of course, statistics don’t tell the whole story. Although the proportion of women in the UK working population increased from one-third in 1961 to two-fifths in 1981, this primarily reflected married women undertaking part-time work in low paid occupations. Similarly, the PR Census data showed PR is more likely than the general working population to be young – and female. In addition, women do not seem to view public relations as a long-term career (or at least primarily returning as independent consultants after maternity breaks). Which means men continue to hold more senior positions in PR – and consequently are better paid.
However, this view reflects a traditional career ladder perspective – and the next phase of my research into career strategies in public relations will look at emerging models that reflect changes in modern employment. From this viewpoint, women practitioners in PR may demonstrate better than men the need for customised careers.
Bandura (2001) argued “in the modern workplace, workers have to take charge of their self-development for a variety of positions and careers over the full course of their worklife”, with agentic self-efficacy (Sadri 1996) of increasing relevance. Sadri notes:
Self-efficacy may be defined as an individual’s judgement of his/her capability to organize and execute a course of action required to attain a designated type of performance. Agentic behaviour includes creating and/or taking advantage of opportunities, risk-taking behaviour, assertiveness in the protection of one’s rights and in the pursuit of one’s goals, persistence in goal pursuits, and willingness to change one’s situation to achieve a better fit with interests, aspirations and expectations.
This means women need to not only to take responsibility for their careers, but also to believe in themselves, something it is argued they are less socialised to do. Likewise, Cline (1989) claims women typically reflect a passive approach to career development.
In 1928, Doris Fleishman wrote in the context of careers in public relations:
the ultimate possibilities for women lie in the future
In number terms, this would appear to have been a correct forecast – but in terms of whether or how women take advantage of these possibilities – particularly in the context of new career forms and methods of working, I believe the statement remains yet to be proven.