Who do you think you are? Respond to the PR Census 2013

PRCensusScoping the PR industry is an unreliable business – but the PR Census (undertaken by PR Week and PRCA) is a valiant attempt to provide some useful numbers and insight into who we are and what we do. That’s why I support the call to complete the census form: https://survey.yougov.com/vdfp0RlDDBKrdk.

The greater the number of UK practitioners who take a few minutes to participate, the more reliable the data and analysis that is produced will be.

Reviewing the findings from the 2011 PR Census, I summed up public relations as:

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.

It is doubtful that two years on, the PR industry is demographically greatly different – but we will have an opportunity to look at some trends and dig deep into the data to discover if some of the previous findings still hold true:

  • PR practitioners are not a greatly diverse bunch in demographic terms
  • On average, the female respondents had less experience than their male counterparts
  • There seemed to be a black hole of women leaving PR mid-career (and not returning after maternity leave)
  • Regardless of age or experience, there continues to be a noticeable gender salary discrepancy in men’s favour
  • With a relatively long hours culture reported by respondents, starting salaries in PR aren’t overly generous – which is even more important than two years’ ago given increasing costs of undergraduate degrees

If these aspects remain pretty consistent, it suggests little has been achieved since the last PR Census to address issues that should be of concern to employers, professional bodies, educators and practitioners themselves. Rather than simply focusing on where the results from the 2013 PR Census offer an opportunity for the industry to pat itself on the back, more needs to be done to future-proof rewarding careers in the field as the norm (regardless of gender, age, race, class, education, experience, entry point, etc).

Anyone looking to recruit PR talent continues to lament the shortage of really high calibre candidates. There has never been a better opportunity for public relations to secure its ground as a credible, valued professional discipline both as an in-house function and a bought in expert service. This is great news – but we won’t realise the potential, and attract or retain the brightest and best, if we simply use this important research to create infographics and generate publicity for PR.

Sugar and spice – are women in PR too nice?

sugarspice“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:

  1. Women are better at communications and/or relationship building and/or softer skills (supposedly reflecting emotional intelligence) – hence why they flock to the occupation
  2. 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.

Feminization of public relations

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. Continue reading Feminization of public relations

Talking about my generation – PR and pretty young things

image 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.

The Visions of Britain 2020 study looking at “Working Women” (published today) highlights concerns over childcare issues, claiming:

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.

Continue reading Talking about my generation – PR and pretty young things