“The position of women outside the dominant social power base suggests a need for more radical activism to enable their voices, and causes, to be heard.” – a view I expressed in a post at PR Conversations in December: Dissent PR – from suffragettes to slut walks. Well, the furore that has resulted from an activist campaign to ensure that at least one female (other than the Queen) appears on British bank notes, has certainly caused women’s voices to be heard on this issue, and that of trolling through Twitter.
Although I did sign the petition, I can’t say that Jane Austen would have been my choice (and why did the campaign seem content with just one woman on the notes?). The writer I’d prefer to have seen selected is Mary Wollstonecraft, not least for wider recognition of her appropriate feminist role as an advocate of women’s rights. (And, I share her birthday, although just over 200 years separate us in age!)
It strikes me, however, that women in public relations have been absent in any high profile way from either this campaign, or commenting on the Twitter abuse button issue. (Although it has resulted in numerous promotional oriented PR posts on dealing with Twitter trolls).
The key activist was Caroline Criado-Perez, a freelance journalist, feminist campaigner and co-founder of thewomensroom.org.uk . This site highlights the lack of women experts featured in the media on a host of topics (not just female oriented ones).
You’d think that this issue was one where women in PR would prove supportive – after all, aren’t we the ones who raise the profiles of experts and often are their gatekeepers with our media contacts? Perhaps ironically, The Women’s Room does not allow PR companies to register for its expert search – although it does suggest getting in touch to book an expert speaker for an event.
The lack of women as experts is evident even within Public Relations, an occupation where around three-quarters of practitioners are female. Check any PR conference or trade publication, look at those featured in PR Week’s Power Book, or the membership of professional body working groups, and it will be dominated by men. I’m not saying this is discrimination (although it may be), but perhaps women in PR aren’t putting their hands up enough to be recognised as experts and commentators with valuable experience and opinions to share. Or is it enough to have a token one or two females represented? At the most, you’ll be lucky to find parity in gender representation – but why not have women dominating in an industry that is dominated by women?
A few week’s ago, Marian Salzman, wrote a post at The Holmes Report titled “America’s PR industry is too feminized and politically correct“. She correlated criticism of the PR awards at Cannes Lions as bland with the number of women working in PR; an argument that was flawed by her praise of an “Aussie-mindset” which she interpreted as reflecting “a great masculine energy” (despite the fact that Greg Smith cites data that a clear majority of Australian PR practitioners are female). In the comments, she did backtrack on her diagnosis, and called for “an injection of badness into our work — to spice up the creative produce and change up the game”.
If little girls are supposed to be made of sugar AND spice – where is the spicy side of women in PR?
Why don’t we see C.J. Cregg, the West Wing’s formidable White House Press Secretary (whose backstory is as a political science Masters graduate and highly paid PR consultant) as our fictional role model rather than more usual fluffy PR bunny or other unflattering stereotypes?
Suzanne Moore in her infamous (for her poorly considered reference to Brazilian transexuals and even worse handling of the resulting Twitterstorm) New Statesman article in January, Seeing red: the power of female anger asked:
Why are we not telling our inbred overlords that we are not as nice as we look?
She felt that “feminism as ‘a movement’ has collapsed in the West” – I would contend, it certainly doesn’t seem to be evident among most female PR practitioners. Whenever the topic of women dominating the PR industry – yet being a minority at senior levels is raised, two responses come up:
- Women are better at communications and/or relationship building and/or softer skills (supposedly reflecting emotional intelligence) – hence why they flock to the occupation
- Women aren’t as career oriented – they take career breaks, are less aggressive in pursuing professional advancement, don’t want to work the long-hours once they have families, etc etc (reflecting Catherine Hakim‘s preference theory argument) – hence why they aren’t the majority in senior roles.
When you discuss gender issues with PR students, especially undergraduates, they are concerned by the situation (Stephen Waddington noted the topic came up with US students visiting London earlier this year). When you introduce them to literature and statistical data (especially studies such as the Velvet Ghetto which noted a $1 million penalty for being a woman), lively debate ensues (and some great dissertation topics).
Similarly, I find female PR students, especially experienced practitioners, are energised by Dr Derina Holtzhausen‘s concept of the corporate activist. Indeed, public relations as activism is an increasingly common topic within the literature marking a shift from a focus on PR being seen as a force to oppose activism.
Does this suggest women in public relations may be getting a taste for slugs and snails and puppy-dog tails – which is what little boys are made of, according to the 19th century English nursery rhyme? One purpose of this childhood story of gender differentiation may have been to remind little girls to be nice and good, where it was acknowledged that boys should be independent and adventurous. Have women in PR adopted a similar approach in conforming to a professional stereotype rather than being feisty and challenging?
I don’t believe that to be true – but do wonder why they aren’t louder and prouder of the work they do and the issues and causes that affect women.