Do the CIPR presidential candidates appeal to women?

genderBoth candidates standing in the CIPR President-Elect 2013 elections (who will become President in 2014) are white, 40+ years old and male. As men comprise a minority of PR practitioners, perhaps it is time to throw into the debate, a question about how appealing Stephen Waddington and Dr Jon White are to women?

It is a relevant consideration given that the UK PR Week-PRCA 2011 PR Census, revealed the occupation is dominated by the young and female.   Also, CIPR “aims to develop an inclusive culture, raise general awareness of diversity within the public relations industry and to increase the number of public relations practitioners from all backgrounds”.

What are some of the issues that face women working in PR that the candidates should address?

1. Salary disparity – women in PR are paid less than men at all levels according to the data from the PR Census study. Nearly 30 years ago, US researchers released the Velvet Ghetto study noting a million dollar income penalty over the course of a woman’s career in PR. It isn’t difficult to argue that things haven’t changed much.

2. Mid-career chasm - there also appears to be a black hole with women leaving PR in mid-career, possibly as a result of a lack of flexible options for combining family and work commitments.

3. Friendliness trap – academics have claimed that women working in PR are expected (particularly at the start of their careers, and specifically in agencies) to adopt overtly feminine behaviour, which serves as a trap to their subsequent credibility and career progression.

4. Female dominated education – the majority of PR undergraduates are women, with men often less than 10 per cent of a class. A gender imbalance is frequently notable among cohorts studying the CIPR’s professional qualifications. The willingness of women to seek qualifications (perhaps buying into the professional agenda of career development) does not seem to be generating them greater career rewards.

5. Marginalisation of women as communicators – women have traditionally occupied technician roles in PR, with claims made that they have softer skills best suited for a communications-dominated position and function. In the past, women were employed to target female-oriented media and organise parties. This continues today, but additionally, they dominate specialist areas such as internal communications and lay claim to relationship building.

Of course, these issues do not affect all women and most apply beyond public relations.  We can also argue that with self-efficacy and personal agency, women are as capable as men of building successful careers. The current CIPR President is female, as was the one before. There have been a total of eleven women Presidents compared to 52 men. The first was Margaret Nally in 1975, followed by Norah Owen in 1981 and then Carol Friend in 1986. In the 1990s, two of the ten Presidents were women; in the last decade they accounted for three out of ten. This decade, so far it is three out of four, with Jane Wilson holding the role of CEO since 2010 as well.

So let’s cut the male candidates some slack – but invite them to comment here whether they believe there are specific considerations relating to women, and other sectors of society, in building careers in public relations. And how their year in office could help address some of the issues that I’ve mentioned above.

Over to you guys… how do you appeal to women in PR?

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3 thoughts on “Do the CIPR presidential candidates appeal to women?

  1. Heather

    Thanks for raising these issues in the election campaign.

    Your specific questions:

    Do I believe there are specific considerations relating to women, and other sectors of society, in building careers in public relations?

    How my year in office could help address some of the issues that I’ve mentioned above?

    Short answer to the first question: Yes. We’ve already focused on questions of diversity in practice, and come up with some tentative answers, but the first has been left unaddressed because many feel there aren’t any problems there. There are.

    To the second: in my year in office, I will be raising these issues for discussion. Going through them:

    1. Salary disparity – women in PR are paid less than men at all levels according to the data from the PR Census study. Nearly 30 years ago, US researchers released the Velvet Ghetto study noting a million dollar income penalty over the course of a woman’s career in PR. It isn’t difficult to argue that things haven’t changed much.

    I was in Canada and teaching public relations as part of a degree programme in public relations at a university which, although co-ed, had a special interest in the educational needs of women. I was well aware of the Velvet Ghetto study and its findings — that public relations was coming to be seen as an occupation mainly for women (and downgraded accordingly). When I returned to the UK , I was told that the problems identified in the Velvet Ghetto study were not to be found in the UK and examples — a handful — of successful women in practice would be pointed to as evidence. The salary figures then and now tell a different story. There is an opportunity for CIPR and PRCA to take a lead on questions of equal pay for equal work, but to do this would play havoc with the economics of consultancy practice

    2. Mid-career chasm – there also appears to be a black hole with women leaving PR in mid-career, possibly as a result of a lack of flexible options for combining family and work commitments.

    Yes, one of my colleagues at the university in Canada made a special study of this, and found that women give up on career progress on the corporate ladder, opting instead for setting up their own businesses or operating freelance to find the freedom and opportunities otherwise blocked.

    3. Friendliness trap – academics have claimed that women working in PR are expected (particularly at the start of their careers, and specifically in agencies) to adopt overtly feminine behaviour, which serves as a trap to their subsequent credibility and career progression.

    Yes, the stereotype — a practice populated by attractive looking, and empty headed young women, Damaging to the young women involved, and to the practice as a whole. Think Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors.

    4. Female dominated education – the majority of PR undergraduates are women, with men often less than 10 per cent of a class. A gender imbalance is frequently notable among cohorts studying the CIPR’s professional qualifications. The willingness of women to seek qualifications (perhaps buying into the professional agenda of career development) does not seem to be generating them greater career rewards.

    I tracked this in the Institute through a series of member surveys in 1987, 1991, 1994 and 1998. where we saw the percentage of women in membership increasing, where it was obvious they would become a majority but that at senior levels men would predominate. At the same time, it was also apparent that women were better qualified and more likely to seek out professional development opportunities. Their efforts are still to be properly recognised.

    5. Marginalisation of women as communicators – women have traditionally occupied technician roles in PR, with claims made that they have softer skills best suited for a communications-dominated position and function. In the past, women were employed to target female-oriented media and organise parties. This continues today, but additionally, they dominate specialist areas such as internal communications and lay claim to relationship building.

    It goes further than this. Women are allowed to make a certain amount of progress in ‘softer’ areas of management such as human resources and public relations but they will be blocked by the glass ceiling. Even within these areas they will often be given lesser titles than men in the same position.

    As you say, differential treatment of women is found in other fields. A current concern relates to representation on boards — how many women are to be found on boards against numbers of men, or in politics, how many women MPs among their male colleagues.

    As I’ve suggested, CIPR can take a lead on the questions you’ve raised, and as president, I would welcome suggestions as to how we can take them on and find answers to them — one mere male standing up and suggesting there might be a problem would not find very receptive audiences!

    Thank you for this, Heather — let’s take the discussion on.

  2. Hi Heather

    Thanks for your blog post and the questions that pose.

    The issue you raise is a very real one. To suggest otherwise would be nonsense. It’s a topic that was explored in a vibrant CIPR LinkedIn discussion earlier in the year. I posted a summary on my blog here: http://wadds.co/XY3rq7.

    The CIPR is a democratic membership organisation. The changes to the electoral process that have enabled Jon and I to stand for election have opened up the opportunity to a larger pool of candidates than ever before. This should lead to broader representation in future years.

    Tackling each of the points that you raise in turn:

    1. Salary disparity
    In 2013 there’s no excuse for salaries to be different. We are starting to see positive change over time but as the data that you cite suggests there is some way to go. My view is that as perception of the public relations profession shifts in favour of a management discipline, rather than the craft, salaries imbalance will continue to be challenged and shift towards parity.

    2. Mid-career chasm
    A mid-career chasm for woman that take a break to have a family is undoubtedly the case. Indeed it’s an issue faced by the wider economy. But it too is changing. There are plenty of examples of women in senior level public relations positions in companies who are combining work and family life.

    Both of the agencies I founded had flexible policies and used technology to eliminate the need to be office based. The motivation was to support working mothers, as much as myself, as a working father with young children.

    Similarly Ketchum PR is a good model for success. It has policies to support working parents including flexible working, working from home and career breaks. It’s why I sought out a role at the agency. Undoubtedly we benefit from the scale of being a large organisation but it is almost certainly why there is gender balance throughout the senior management team.

    3. Friendliness trap
    Stereotypes are really unhelpful in this instance and again it is not an issue that is isolated to the public relations profession. The use of the word ‘expected’ here speaks volumes. There may be an expectation of a certain type of behaviour but that that doesn’t mean women should respond to that expectation. Break the cycle. I can’t imagine this issue ever being raised in our office in New York. It is changing with generations. In my year in office I would look to reinforce a positive image of the CIPR as a whole and all of its members.

    4. Female dominated education
    This is a really intriguing question and an important one. More needs to be done to make men aware of the career opportunities of studying public relations at university. Men tend to move into the industry later in their careers. I have no hard evidence for why qualifications do not generate greater career rewards for women but I’d suggest that it is related to leaving the profession mid-career.

    People who study at any stage of their career whatever their gender should be actively encouraged and applauded for their desire to continuously improve. I can show a direct correlation between my personal skills and expertise throughout my career.

    5. Marginalisation of women as communicators
    Women are as capable as men of building successful careers. It seems strange to me in 2013 that we even have to outline that as if it’s something that’s not accepted as a fact, it certainly is where I work. Admiral PR (the regional agency that I chair) was founded by a woman, and as I’ve already said the split in the senior management team at Ketchum PR is equitable.

    Public relations is not a “soft” occupation. Anyone that has seen a practitioner working with union officials, dealing with an organisation involved in the horse meat crisis, working on a sensitive corporate issue or handling a public meeting wouldn’t attach that label. Within my network, building careers in public relations through professional development is an essential issue irrespective of gender.

    The broader issue here is one of diversity. We need to ensure that we represent the audiences that we purport to represent. That means, aside from the points already outlined, greater attention to diversity. As President I will support the work that has already started in this area wherever I can.

    All the best,
    Stephen

  3. What a great question, Heather. Sadly, we are still a surprisingly long way away from equality for women in our workplaces. Whatever individual people and companies do to ensure parity of pay and creative ways of looking at the other issues mentioned, this is far from universal. The facts speak for themselves. At comms director level, according to the PR Census of 2011, women were earning some £40,000 less than their male counterparts.

    Jon says in response to the question: “There is an opportunity for CIPR and PRCA to take a lead on questions of equal pay for equal work, but to do this would play havoc with the economics of consultancy practice”. I am a little dismayed by this comment, if I have read it right. Had everyone felt that rocking boats was inadvisable and keeping the status quo was paramount, Heather and I would still not have a vote! If the economics of consultancies are founded on such dubious practices they deserve to be rocked.

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