According to the UK PR Week-PRCA 2011 PR Census, public relations is dominated by the young and female. In terms of age, only 20% of PR practitioners are older than 45, despite the fact that 28% of the general working population is over 50. Women account for almost two-thirds of the PR industry (64%) compared to 46% for the overall workforce.
women in their 30s and 40s are having the children that they put off when they were younger as they climbed through the education system and onto the career and property ladders.
This finding echoes the results of one of the undergraduate dissertations I supervised this year in which PR students identified family life rather than a glass ceiling as the most likely barrier to a successful career for men or women.
As 80-90% of undergraduate PR students are female, the statistics, and image of the occupation as one employing pretty young things, may reflect the increasing numbers of qualified women entering PR. The PR Census appears to back this up showing 11% of females had spent 1-2 years in PR compared to 5% of men.
Data also seems to indicate a black hole where older women in particular are leaving PR owing to difficulties in work-life balance. The percentage of women working in PR for 16+ years was 19% compared to 36% of men. (Age and length of time spent in PR appearing to be correlated in the study.)
This suggests women in PR aren’t necessarily turning to freelance opportunities or establishing their own consultancies, which might be considered more flexible options for combining family and work commitments.
The PR Census reveals in excess of 49 hours a week are worked by more than 40% of practitioners, with average starting salaries in the region of £21k (agency) and £28k (in-house). This does not seem particularly attractive – especially when faced with rising tuition fees for studying a PR degree.
David Phillips has written an excellent series of posts concerning the need to increase the productivity of working in PR. The essence of his argument is a need to focus on higher value activities in PR, outsourcing or automating the low value work (which are generally those that impact negatively on PR’s reputation), and demonstrating the value of PR as an expert not a tactical function. We might attract more male PR students if we can show the function isn’t all parties and press release writing.
I believe this means we have to stop portraying PR as “an inherently feminine activity” (as Craig Pearce argued) which is based on the outdated career theory of matching traits to occupations. This perspective limits both PR and women – with feminisation of any occupation affecting both pay levels and job status.
Already we see women in PR are paid less than men: the PR Census indicates an average of nearly £63k for men cf circa £40k for women. The message is men are holding more senior positions in PR and are better paid.
It would be nice to think the waves of smart, young women choosing PR as their career path via a University degree (as opposed to falling into it by default as many older practitioners confess) will gain the rewards of both senior posts and high salaries. However, I predict that, like my generation, they will find the occupation does not live up to their expectations and develop their career paths elsewhere; particularly if they are not prepared to compromise on having a fulfilling personal as well as professional life.
But let’s not wait until they abandon all hope of a rewarding PR career. One of the biggest challenges in public relations today is finding good quality mid-career practitioners (according to those looking for talent in the motor industry at least). If I’m right, there are plenty of intelligent, experienced, age 35+ women (probably mothers) who could be attracted back to work in PR.
They don’t want to work in press release factories or be expected to use their feminine assets to build superficial relationships. Rather I reckon they have the capabilities to develop effective campaigns, and other more valuable PR activities, within an industry that should offer flexibility of working rather than sweatshop conditions.