Women

fearless-girl-hed-2017

International Women’s Day – March 8. A day. One day a year to celebrate women. To commemorate the ongoing struggle for women’s rights. For equality.

This is not some new public relations idea. Women have been marching and demanding a voice for over a century. Making the world see them. Making men see them. The men who have the power need to see women. To realise the world is better when shared.

In the early 1900s, the modern workplace was formed. It was “increasingly constructed in a male idiom” (Simonton 2006:261). Masculine structures were hierarchical, yet women claimed a place in them – it was “the arrival of women in the offices which was the beginning of the real social revolution” (Sampson 1995:53).

This revolution was a communicative one – the recently invented telephone and typewriter became women’s weapons of power. And their shackles. These empowering technologies were deemed particularly suited to the skills of women (Simonton 1998). Condemning both woman and machine to the lower floors. Often hidden from view in the telephone exchanges and typing pools.

But it was in the factories where the real subjugation of working women took place. Still takes place.

The London match girls went on strike in 1888 challenging their working conditions and treatment. Their activism generated publicity and political action. The Uprising of the 20,000, the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909, stood up for immigrant working women in the garment industry. Invisible women taking to the streets to demand change. These stories have been repeated over the decades, across the world.

Matches and shirts – small things. We depend on small things.

Equality is important. Having the power to change inequalities and inequities is important. When you don’t have power from being an ‘important person’ (as women often don’t) then power can be found in the combined efforts of many, many individuals.

Women are activists, agitators and social reformers for change. I believe this work is both an antecedent to modern PR practice and an integral part of it.

Activism is directed beyond the rights of women. For causes that may be unseen and for voices that are often unheard. For children and animals. For the homeless and vulnerable. For the planet and peace. For bodies, minds and souls. For access and control. Activism isn’t solely for women, by women or about women. It is inclusive power.

On International Women’s Day, female humans become visible, talked about, celebrated.

Yet we are here every day. We may not be equal in numbers in positions of power – as politicians, industry leaders, judges, and so forth. But look around and you’ll see women.

Women do much of life’s dirty work. We dominate in shadow work – unpaid and unseen jobs. We are invisible workers and virtual workers.

This should not be devalued but celebrated.

It is not the top of institutions that truly matters. Yes, women need to be there – but not to be representatives or as a balancing calculation. That’s not how men are seen in such roles.

All women matter. No matter our role as workers or without work. As people with a voice and power or without.

We do the important jobs and the little jobs. We are everywhere.


Image: ‘The Fearless Girl’ by artist Kristen Visbal installed by State Street Global Advisors. Branded art as activism. Photo by Federica Valabrega.


Some of my other relevant writing:

Yaxley, H., 2012. Exploring the origins of careers in public relations. Public relations review. 38 (3), 399–407. [Above referenced sources are cited from this paper]

Yaxley, H., 2013. Career experiences of women in British public relations (1970–1989). Public Relations Review, 39 (2), 156–165.

Yaxley, H., 2013. Dissent PR – the women’s perspective: From suffragettes to slutwalks. Dissent and public relations seminar series, October-December 2012. Bournemouth University. Available from: https://research.bournemouth.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Dissent-and-public-relations-Bournemouth-University.pdf.

Yaxley, H., 2016. How to reach special publics – the woman publics. Available from: http://www.prconversations.com/2016/03/how-to-reach-special-publics-the-woman-publics/

America

ellis-island

I first went to Ellis Island in New York in 1980. This was my first time in America – United States of…

The last time I travelled to the US was in April 2001 when I stayed in New York with my mother to celebrate my 40th birthday. The one place that I really wanted to see again was Ellis Island.

By then, the gateway for millions of immigrants had started a journey of restoration, thanks to public generosity in response to an appeal launched by President Ronald Reagan in 1982. The Island of Hope, Island of Tears is a modern educational resource, now known as the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.

From my second visit, I remember the mix of people representing the myriad of races and nationalities that comprise the history of US immigration. Barely a week earlier, the American Family Immigration History Centre had opened up arrival records to everyone.

We watched with fascination the reactions of young and old visitors as they discovered details of their relatives on the new electronic database recording details of 22 million immigrants, passengers and crew members who had been processed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924.

I’d been to the US several times in the intervening years but the first and last of my visits are the most memorable.

When I started University in 1979, my room was next to an American spending a year in England. She lived in New Jersey and studied at Boston University. We became friends and she invited me to visit her family and the University. My parents managed to find the money for my airfare believing that this would possibly be my only chance to visit America.

I experienced a country that was both inspiring and depressing in equal measure. I remember huge shopping malls, noisy television gameshows, the thickness of McDonalds’ milkshakes and themed restaurants. I recall being bombarded by questions by people who were fascinated to meet someone British. They wanted to hear news of the Iranian hostages.

Their interest spoke to the concerns of a nation in a presidential election year that Ronald Reagan would win on a promise of restoring confidence, with a slogan of Let’s Make America Great Again.

After spending a few days with my friend at BU, I returned alone to New Jersey by train. This meant making a change in New York, at Grand Central Station. I was 19 years old and New York public transport had a somewhat gritty reputation. I was bewildered by the crowds of people rushing purposefully around me as I stood with my small blue suitcase like Paddington Bear trying to locate my connection.

A man wearing a suit came up to me and asked where I was headed. He gave me his briefcase and took my luggage. Quickly he took me to the right platform and disappeared into the crowds. The good side of New Yorkers.

This memory of a fleeting moment makes me think of the disorientation of those arriving in a strange country. Of trying to find your way and being unsure who to trust.

The Ellis Island that I’d visited a week or so earlier taking a ferry from New Jersey had conveyed this feeling through its haunting decay. Standing in open halls amongst the remnants of furniture, paperwork and peeling paintwork, I could feel the ghosts of millions of hopeful adults and children seeking a new life.

Shuffling in lines after an ardurous journey. Climbing the stairs of separation. Fearful of a cough or other indication of illness that would attract a chalk mark and an immediate return voyage. Surrounded by noises and smells of different cultures. Holding fast to precious dreams of the wonders that America may offer to those willing to work hard for a new future. The respite it would provide to these huddled masses.

A sense of the powerful decay of Ellis Island that I witnessed in 1980 can be gained from the stunning photographs of the Hospital Laundry building which completed its restoration last year.

Of course, immigration remains a global issue and January 2017 will be marked in history for President Trump’s suspension of the US refugee programme and plans for ‘extreme vetting’ of immigrants.

America – particular the US – has a long history of immigration, as does Britain. Regardless of your position on the issue today, we all ought to empathise with the feelings that drive people to relocate – whether in hope or fear. Nothing has ever communicated that to me more strongly than my first – and in a different way, my more recent – visit to Ellis Island.


Image: HR-ART.NET see: https://www.saveellisisland.org

Personality

chameleon-abstract-378557_640

Everyone is different. Everyone is the same.

As professional communicators, should public relations practitioners focus on individual differences, segmenting people into chunks by age, gender, geographical location? Or categorise by attitude – friend or foe? Perhaps by behaviour – which way did you vote? Are you with us or against?

Stephen Waddington directs PR practitioners towards using data and algorithms, which can be useful. But it can also be our modern day equivalent of reading head bumps for understanding who we are and what we do.

He rightly indicates the ethical dilemmas raised by Derina Holtzhausen. I’m likewise concerned by the implications of people being increasingly divided into multiple, fragmented publics even as we share the same space.

This tension is inherent in my PhD study of career strategies in public relations.

Public relations as an occupation promotes an individualistic model of careers, reflected in practitioner surveys and academic studies that mention attracting a certain “breed of person” and recruiting those with a “good” or “right personality”. Reference to personality is found historically, in respect of contemporary practice, in relation to ethics and within gender studies literature.

A focus on traits rather than competencies can be found in job adverts, anecdotal career advice and silly “personality type” clickbait articles (including this one on the CIPR site “for switched on public relations professionals”: The top five personality types of PR people).

Personality profiling is not just for fun. Historical and contemporary studies of public relations have found that women in particular find their personalty is linked to appearance, and both viewed as “intrinsic” to their ability to do a job. Of course as any misogynistic troll proves, this is an issue way beyond PR though.

In career studies terms, this thinking reflects theories based on matching concepts and personality typologies that emerged in the early 20th century. They speak to the idea of congruence between a person’s characteristics and the requirements of a job or occupation. Despite initial intentions for such approaches to support individual career choice, they soon became used by military and big business as a winnowing process.

Profiling emphasises structural norms of  personality. Yet segmenting public relations practitioners on such superficial grounds when hiring and promoting is problematic for a number of reasons, including:

1. Trivialisation: Emphasising the importance of having a “bright, enthusiastic personality” gets in the way of presenting public relations practitioners as qualified strategic management advisers.

2. Occupational closure: Selecting by personality can lead to recruitment and retention on basis of homophily; recruiting “people like us”.

3. Discrimination: Judgements made on basis of personality may reflect prejudice about the types of people suited to work in, or progress within, public relations; and discriminate against those who don’t fit this notion of ideal fit.

4. Opportunity structure: Public relations becomes seen as an occupation that attracts, and offers opportunities to, certain types of people, which acts as a barrier to enabling greater diversity.

5. Labelling: Some people think, feel and behave differently as a result of personality disorders. It is important to understand mental health issues and how these relate to ability to function in the workplace and wider society. Even light-hearted personality-based labels can stigmatise people who are living with, or who have recovered from, various conditions.

Just because people are different, doesn’t mean that they aren’t also all the same. Just because we are the same, doesn’t mean we aren’t also different.

Focusing only on differences often leads to conflict. Indeed, technologies enable segmented groups to become increasingly divided and potentially dangerously cohesive thanks to the filter bubble of search engine algorithms, social network endorsements and confirmation bias (where people attend to information that is consistent with existing views and avoid contradictory information).

In public relations, we need to be open to difference at the same time as recognising similarities. As an occupation we should be adhesive, enabling different types of people to be able to work and live together.

And, when we talk about personality, as professionals, we should do better than rely on discriminatory euphemisms, outdated profiling techniques, or Cosmopolitan magazine style quizzes.

Listen

Somme 2_0

A century ago, the bloody battle in northern France silenced the hopes, dreams, fears and nightmares of so many young men. Others were so badly affected by their experiences that they never spoke of them again.

On 1 July 1916, 19,240 British soldiers died; many were recent volunteers. Their voices, along with hundreds of thousands more in the coming months, were lost forever.

It wasn’t until two weeks later that the names of the dead and wounded were reported in British newspapers. People began wearing black armbands as a way of acknowledging their loss.

In August, the War Office showed a public information film, The Battle of the Somme – nearly half the population went to the cinema to see the horrific scenes of the realities of war. It reinforced their resolve – as the propagandists intended.

By early November, simple shrines began appearing spontaneously around the country as people mourned their lost ones; as the list of casualties grew hourly in this brutal war.

The Battle of the Somme lasted from 1 July to 18 November 1916. The number of British soldiers dying across the 141 days averaged 893 per day – a total of 127,751 men. There were 419,654 British casualties, 204,253 French and at least 465,000 German. More than one million dead and wounded. Plus 100,000 horses deployed to support the British army; most of their fates unknown.

But raw facts fail to convey the horror.

You can read the human stories – the Telegraph has provided real time updates today.

You should read accounts of those who are moved by walking the battlefields today.

You will see real footage – stark in black and white across the news and online, shared through social media.

You can follow Tweets reporting detailed war diary entries from this day a hundred years ago.

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You will witness the scale of the loss through the 19,240 shroud-clad figures marking every soldier who died on 1 July 1916 – each carrying an individual’s name.

You should reflect on the poetry written by ordinary men.

You can visit the Somme and stand silent in this bleak but beautiful landscape where the lost lives continue to be remembered. Not just today, but every day.

And you must listen.

Listen to the words of long-dead young men, such as 20 year old Second Lieutenant Jocelyn Buxton, killed on the first day of battle:

https://youtu.be/CPetbQs_k0g

Listen to the memories of the ‘silent generation’ who shared rare recollections, recorded by the BBC in the 1960s:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/group/p01tbj6p

Because when history is recorded, it must be remembered through the words of those who were there. When someone is lost, it is their voice that we long to hear again.

We are so busy talking and writing and sharing, that we fail to take the time to listen. Just listen. Properly listen. To those around us. To understand their perspective.

Listening is the only way to understand what others feel, think and experience.

Listening is ephemeral – it is hard to create a lasting trace of voices as they can fade fast in our memories.

Listening lacks the presence of seeing and doing. Yet, we need to be present to do it well.

As you’ve engaged with the visuality of my words, reflect on their sound in your head. My words are not important but the personal space where you listen is.

In their personal space 19,240 young listened to the real horrors of war. 100 years ago today. Before they fell silent.

 


Statistics sources:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/ztngxsg
http://www.historyextra.com/feature/somme-terrible-learning-curve

Understanding

word-understanding

This is the first in a series of posts with one word titles. According to the Oxford English Dictionary there are over 600,000 English words, with new ones added each year.

Word: A single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing

Any professional communicator needs to be aware of the meaning of the words they choose – and seek to understand the meaning intended in the words chosen by those with whom they communicate.

Comprehension, the ability to understand, is both vitally important, and a never ending process. It should be our basic learning outcome and the focus for continuous professional development.

We study comprehension when learning to read, or mastering another language. We question, what does this word – or digital code – mean? Semantics is at the heart of speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Words are symbols, signifiers, they may be socially constructed, and have specific meaning in a particular time or place. They can be fluid and deliberately twisted. They can heal, or hurt. They are powerful things.

As a professional educator, I’m always asking students: “what do you mean?” and focus down onto individual words to clarify why it was chosen and used in a particular context. It is critical that the person assessing a student’s work understands what they mean.

This doesn’t mean a communicator has to dumb down, although simple words can communicate with great clarity. At other times, understanding particular words can be difficult, even though they are the right choice in the context. Putting in the effort to comprehend such words is essential if we are to be able to explain our thinking and arguments. I’m not talking about being pretentious or obfuscating, but simply recognising that there are less common words that have a place in the lexicon.

Understanding may require intellect, thinking and judgement. It may also occur intuitively – without much thought, when we rely on emotions, or familiarity and immediately empathise and understand.

In their paper: The role of comprehension processes in communication and persuasion (subscription or academic login required), Wyer, Jr. and Shrum focus on cognitive processes rather than literal meaning of a communication.

They consider how verbal statements (written or spoken words) can spontaneously create a mental picture, but linguistic coding of pictures requires time. That is, words can trigger immediate visualisation, but we need longer to process what we see before translating this into words. In addition, both recall of a narrative and emotional reactions are affected by the mental imagery generated by particular word choice.

Words have power in stimulating visualisation, although that means we tend to rely on heuristics (mental shortcuts) in forming understanding. In contrast, when faced with an image, we may not be able to find the words to express our understanding immediately.

We may understand that a picture paints a thousand words – but perhaps also need to consider that a thousand words (or even just one) can paint a very powerful image.


Image adapted from original via: http://dryicons.com

Kairos and the right time for public relations

kairos-1It is 3333 days since I wrote my first Greenbanana blog post on 21 September 2006. In terms of chronological time around 80,000 hours, 4.8 million minutes and over 288 million seconds have passed.

In numerical terms, this is my 1,000th post – meaning on average, I’ve written one every three calendar days. Although the pattern is less rigid than that – in recent years I’ve crafted one per month, meaning at the start, blogging was more of a daily habit.

I have no idea how much time I’ve spent blogging, but I’d suggest each blog takes an hour (or so) to think about, research, write, edit and finally hit publish. At least 1,000 hours, 42 full days or 6 weeks in 9 years.

Each post has a mean average of 288 views. The most popular post was called PR problems for Santa at Lapland New Forest on 3 December 2008.

The time spent on this blog can be measured and accounted for. Tick tock time as the hands move around the dial, or figures click over noisily or noiselessly in digital time.

In ancient Greece there were two words for time – chronos and kairos.

Chronos gives us chronology – the science of arranging events in their order of occurrence. Our lives are lived in chronological sequence. When we research history (such as for the International History of Public Relations Conference), chronology allows us to locate people and historical events and make connections about what happened when and what else was occurring at the same time.

Public relations work relies on chronometry – the measurement of time, or time-keeping – particularly in PR agencies which calculate the cost of their endeavours for fee charging. Neil Hackworth argues in the new book #FuturePRoof (available as a free pdf) that time is what is sold in PR to clients.

But are the hours spent ‘doing’ public relations what they are worth? Is a mathematical equation all that is important in costing the value of our labours?

Extrapolating across our working lives, time is how we spend our careers. We have a set number of years to dedicate to our life’s work. Only so many job moves we can make in that time. Using the traditional metaphor, how quickly can we climb the career ladder?

In my PhD research into career strategies in public relations, I have used a timeline method in my interviews (drawing on a method developed by Hanne Kirstine Adriansen). This reflects the centrality of time in career studies.

Wilensky’s 1961 definition doesn’t mention time, but it is integral to his statement that career is:

A succession of related jobs, arranged in a hierarchy of prestige, through which persons move in an ordered (more-or-less predictable) sequence.

Gunz and Mayrhofer propose a Social Chronology Theory building on three perspectives:

  • spatial (the social space where our careers happen)
  • ontic (that’s us – as the focal person or career actor)
  • temporal (time to make career transitions across spatial career boundaries as well as changes experienced by the career actor who learns, gets older, gains experience, over time).

But enough about chronos and the march of the hands of time. I’m more interested in kairos. The ancient greeks used this word to signify a more qualitative approach to time. This refers to the right or opportune time. It is surprising that kairos seems to have had little attention in the career literature.

The rhythm of our careers do not beat simply in a metronomic fashion. My research indicates that our experience of time in various positions is not the sum of the weeks, months and years spent. Recollecting the development of our careers, we focus on moments, the right time, opportunistic timing.

In our practice, public relations success isn’t necessarily about how long you spend planning and executing a programme or campaign. Our best work may occur in an instant when circumstances come together and the time is right.

The challenge is to spot the right time for a career move, to know when and how to craft a situation for our work to be most effective, or to take advantage of the propitious moment for our words and deeds.

March writes (in Classical Rhetoric and Modern Public Relations) that the right point of time can “both contract and expand” that we have to be ready and prepared to seize the moment.

In the hectic modern world, we all seem to struggle to find, or make, time. Our lives are spent rushing or taken up by the trivial. Everything seems urgent even when unimportant (to cite Covey’s ‘first things first’ time management grid).

Yet we have the same 24 hours a day that we’ve always had – chronos keeps us on track. But it is in the time of kairos that we are lacking. Where we are urged to be mindful, take the time to count our blessings, reflect and live in the moment.

Many people believe there has never been a better time to work in public relations. We probably can’t say if this is true, because it depends on our personal perspective. In considering kairos we are reminded to look for the right time, the critical moments, the decisive point at which we should act.

Is it time to step away from the Grunig & Hunt four models of public relations?

pot plantsIf you’ve ever read a public relations textbook, you’ll be familiar with the Grunig & Hunt four models of public relations. Those who’ve studied a PR qualification will have written essays on the construct, even squidging it into papers where it wasn’t necessary because it has to be included, right?

No – there’s more to the scholarship of public relations than this framework originally published in 1984. Grunig’s own work has moved on through the Model of Excellence studies, conceptualisation of generic principles and specific applications for public relations, and more recently into consideration of two ‘competing theories’ of the symbolic, interpreted paradigm and the strategic management, behavioural paradigm. This work has all been related to the ‘age of digitalisation‘ by Grunig in 2009 (including a great ‘infographic’ originated by David Phillips).

Clearly there’s more to Grunig than the four model framework of two one-way models of communication (press agentry, public information) and two two-way models (asymmetric and symmetric). A fraction of the attention it is given has been devoted to Grunig’s Situational theory of publics, which in my view is a more interesting concept echoing the work of Dewey and Blumer.

But educators, students and even seasoned PR practitioners such as Stephen Waddington (who wrote his CIPR Chartered Practitioner paper on Grunig and digital communications) hone in on the 30+ year old framework.

Indeed, as we have our biggest ever intake for the CIPR qualifications at PR Academy starting this Saturday, the framework will undoubtedly be introduced to dozens more practitioners as students.

Of course it’s had its critics – and there’s a Pavlovian response in presenting these whenever the two-way symmetrical model is mentioned. But rather than liberating PR scholarship from the four models, the critiques appear to have anchored the framework further into the text books as a dominant paradigm. In education, we teach the four models to students who have never heard of them, and then we offer up critiques. But their central position remains the hub around which students’ understanding of PR theory remains.

PARADIGM: In science and epistemology (the theory of knowledge), a paradigm /ˈpærədaɪm/ is a distinct set of concepts or thought patterns, including theories, research methods, postulates, and standards for what constitutes legitimate contributions to a field. Source: Wikipedia

The Grunig & Hunt construct needs to be put in its place within a rich body of work that existed before, and has developed after, the four models were presented in 1984. That place is not as the fulcrum around which to lever open a theoretical underpinning of public relations practice. Rather than being positioned as the ‘best’ way of examining or explaining public relations, it is just one of many options within our academic and practitioner toolkit.

It shouldn’t be placed at the beginning of a student’s journey into the academia, nor be the only thing that is remembered at the end of a course to apply to the day job. It fits somewhere in the middle – but not the centre – of a substantive range of theories, models and ideas that stretch way outside the boundaries of public relations texts.

My call to step away from the models isn’t because they lack relevance, it is that other concepts offer greater, or at least, further potential for interesting and fruitful exploration of the links between PR academia and practice (a topic that is the focus of a CIPR Facebook ‘Community of Practice ‘group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1536282756627129/).

To return to my favourite rhizomatic metaphor, the four models sit like a neat row of little pot plants where we need to get our hands dirty in the wider public relations field, which offers many interconnected and varied roots, flowers, fruits and weeds worthy of our attention.