Why Public Relations practitioners should ensure they are registered to vote

Votes_For_Women

If you work in public relations in the UK – or are studying the discipline – I hope you are registered to vote, if you are eligible to do so. Today is the final day to register to vote in the general election and participate in the democratic process on 7 May 2015. It will take five minutes and can be done here: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote (by midnight on 20 April).

Here are five reasons why PR practitioners (and future practitioners) should register to vote:

1. Public relations affects society – and if this is your chosen occupation, you are involved in addressing societal issues. It doesn’t matter if your focus is a promotional marketing one, or internal communications, rather than at a corporate level involving issues management or public/financial affairs, your work is political. We seek to influence debate, set the news agenda, and our organisations are likewise affected back by what goes on in the world.

2. The right to vote has been hard-won by earlier generations of activists – and activism is evidence of how public relations can make a difference. Many people in the world are still disenfranchised. Whilst we have the option to choose not to register, and indeed not to vote, to me this seems an abdication of the rights that others fought so hard to secure using peaceful, and sometimes, more confrontational approaches, in the face of the more powerful in society.

3. PR is dominated by women – and women have only been able to vote in the UK since 1918.  This isn’t ancient history. We’re talking about when our grandmothers, or maybe great-grandmothers were born. At the end of the first world war, women over 30 were GIVEN the vote (that means by men!). It wasn’t until 28 that they had parity with men i.e. could vote when aged 21. Voting rights reflect a key step that has enabled women today to do so many things – and will enable us to challenge things we still believe are unfair.

4. If you were born between 7 May 1992 and 7 May 1997 this will be the first time you are able to vote in the UK general election. That means you will be marking a historical moment in your life. The first time I was eligible to vote was on 3 May 1979 – exactly 6 days after my 18th birthday. This was a momentous election as it was the first – and only – time that a woman became British prime minister. Registering to vote for the first time, and then actually voting, is an important life milestone and should be recognised and celebrated as such. We’ve only been able to vote (men and women) aged 18 since 1969. If we would like to see that right extended to 16 year olds for the next election, let’s prove how many of us take our responsibilities seriously.

5. Voting is a way of showing that you believe people matter. Individuals citizens are the foundation of society – not those who can enact or influence power in an unaccountable way. You may not live in a swing seat and under the current electoral system, you may feel that your vote doesn’t count as your chosen candidate is unlikely to win. But every voter and every vote is an important acknowledgement that politicians are merely our representatives. Whether we directly selected them or not, they are representing us. We matter.

According to the BBC, there are as many as 7.5 million unregistered voters, but over 1.7 million people have registered in the last 5 weeks.

So do check you are registered , particularly if you’ve moved house in the last year. Don’t assume you are eligible because you were previously. Changes in the regulations mean that individuals must have registered themselves (rather than previously being signed up by the head of a household). You simply need your National Insurance number and a few minutes before midnight tonight.

There is probably nothing more important you could do today.

Again, here’s the link:
https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.

A sinister perspective of diversity in public relations

Image: Hand to Hand wayfinding/art installation
Image: Hand to Hand wayfinding/art installation – SEGD Merit Award Winner 2010

I belong to a sinister minority group – I’m left-handed. We make up around one in ten of the world’s population, although apparently, about a third of people are cross-dominant, or ambilateral, favouring different hands for various tasks. I have no idea of the number of PR practitioners who may be left-handed as it isn’t considered a relevant fact in most surveys about the occupation. It isn’t a diversity factor in that sense.

If you are left-handed, on the whole you learn to orientate yourself to a right-handed world. I’ve never been one much for special treatment or left-handed equipment, but there are times when we face discrimination from presumptions of right-handedness (normally for minor matters, such as pens chained to counters).

I’m not equating being left-handed to the far more serious cases of discrimination for race, gender, disability and religion for example. But I am able to recognise ‘the other’ in a world that frequently doesn’t even notice that their way is not the only way.

Of course, things aren’t as bad as they used to be. I was never forced to write right-handed as was the case for many children. But left handedness continues to have many negative cultural associations. We are seen as awkward or clumsy (gauche in French), crooked (mancino in Italian), as linguistically, being left-handed connects to many insults. Indeed, the Latin, sinister denoting on the left side, became connected with malice, ill-will, unlucky, even illegitimacy with the ‘bend sinister‘ in heraldry.

As a minority, I prefer not to join a lefties club and have never celebrated left handers’ day (it’s August 13 if you’re interested) or pointed out those who are famous and left-handed (from Prince William to Barrack Obama if you care).

To be honest, I feel much the same about women’s groups and remain to be convinced that grouping people into various segments or intersections is always that helpful. The problem as I see it, is that segmentation is only a small step away from stereotyping, a term first used by Walter Lippmann in his book, Public Opinion.

Stereotyping is about seeing differences, which can then lead to prejudice and discrimination. Wikipedia‘s entry on stereotypes relates these three concepts as a tripartite of cognitive, affective and behavioural reactions – that is expectations and beliefs, emotional responses and action in response to attributing characteristics to particular groups of people.

Stereotypes don’t necessarily work in a negative way – and, that can be the dangerous thing when one grouping is seen as superior to another and hence gains favourable attention. So the world is set up to the benefit of being right-handed, and those of us who are ‘other’ need to accommodate to it. That’s frequently the case with being female, and any attempt to argue otherwise is negatively labelled as feminist, ignoring the fact that noting discrimination and advocating a feminist perspective is about equality, not favouritism.

Women should not have to be better than men to receive an equal position in society; women should have the right to be as incompetent as men if we’re being equal about things. No-one would ever argue that I should be paid less than someone who is right-handed, and I can’t think of a time when I have ever had to prove I am better than the majority norm because I write with my left hand. But that’s the position often articulated about equal pay and opportunity for women or other sectors of society that face discrimination.

It is quite simply stupid – and often illegal – to discriminate in pay or career progression on the basis of gender (and many other dimensions).

Talent comes in many shapes and sizes and should be recognised and rewarded accordingly.

If we return to the above hierarchy of effects model – we don’t really need a #MakeItHappen awareness initiative or special women’s editions of PR Week to know that discrimination occurs, in PR and wider society. To be frank, communications campaigns aren’t necessary for people to feel it is ridiculous that this debate about work based equality continues some 45 years after the Equal Pay Act became law in the UK in 1970. That only leaves action – and here I don’t mean setting up special groups, holding conferences and otherwise talking about the issue.

Despite Grazia claiming its Mind the Pay Gap Campaign has helped the UK government to introduce mandatory pay audits for organisations employing more than 250 people – this is not yet law and may get lost in the run up to the May general election. It will also not provide insight for the majority of employers, and will rely on public pressure and some legal action when gaps can be proven to be discriminatory.

Actually, as PR practitioners we have a better position than many occupations to address this issue where it matters – within organisations. We have access to information, and increasingly, have the internal influence to address issues. Let’s be corporate activists and investigate pay differentials within our employers and raise the matter with clients. Those in PR consultancies can directly address the matter as there can be little argument about the nature of work here that necessitates parity of pay and conditions.

We should refuse to be the voice of platitudes about treating staff equally until and unless we know this to be true. No obfuscating and rhetorical games to dodge the issue.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published an Equal Pay Audit Toolkit – a useful start although the most important part of which is missing, Step 6 – to implement an equal pay action plan to reach and maintain a fair system.

Intentions are not enough and we should stop side-stepping the issue and start today to pay fairly and equally the men and women that we recruit, and those we already employ. Anything less just wouldn’t be right.

Loving or loathing LinkedIn

linkedinI’m in two minds about LinkedIn both personally and professionally. In some ways it is the most irritating of social media networks, but also it can be highly useful.

I tend to feel LinkedIn (the topic of my second January post reflecting on Social Media) doesn’t really know what it is any more and is trying to be a bit of lots of other social media channels, but not necessarily very successfully.

The recent additions of prompted endorsements in my view has undermined the value of this aspect of the site. Yes, written recommendations can still be helpful, but I’m not sure anyone really places much store in them do they? Aren’t they just mates’ puffery?

Other automated ‘updates’ such as job anniversaries I find equally annoying. And most of the group discussions are pretty pointless – or maybe it is just the groups that I’ve joined (and often wish I hadn’t). I reckon most groups are largely dormant or are dominated by a few voices.

I also dislike how many people use LinkedIn in a ‘look at me’ manner which is mainly about self-publicity or promotion of their work, company or activities. Some people I see in group discussions make me laugh with their bragging, especially when they lack any self-recognition that their pomposity in writing about how successful they are is the antithesis of good public relations.

Other people seem to use groups as a lazy short-cut to original research. I don’t mind a good discussion around a topic that is of wider interest, or seeking recommendations for suppliers or such information. But too often I find people are looking for others to do their job for them. And, undoubtedly these types of posts recur frequently. Isn’t there an easy way of people finding previous threads rather than asking the same simplistic questions over and over?

And, I hear so many examples of recruitment companies relying on LinkedIn to find candidates without any knowledge of the competence or qualities of those they trawl up. Mind you, it is amusing to think of the recruiters and boasters finding each other in an ever repeating circuit.

However, LinkedIn does genuinely make accessible dozens of job vacancies and enables you to find – and check out – people for speaking and other employment opportunities. This is where I think LinkedIn does work well i.e. as a professional contact database – which is where it started. Locating and connecting with people you know (and don’t but perhaps could and should) is simple and effective. Yes, too many people still abuse the networking, but they can be ignored quite easily.

For individuals, it is a straightforward way to have an up to date online profile, with both a CV/resume and other useful information. It can be a helpful professional place to share useful information and enable effective online networking particularly with existing contacts. I do find it works in terms of getting faster responses than emails from busy people. For students and young PR practitioners, it can be a good way of establishing contacts especially using its ‘6-degrees of separation’ nature.

It is also easy for organisations to set up pages where basic information is often easier to find than on their own websites. A post at Forbes argues companies should encourage all employees to use LinkedIn rather than blocking access. The argument is that employee activity in LinkedIn increases visibility for a company. Actually, the point being made is that employees should be using LinkedIn as ‘brand ambassadors’ and generators of LinkedIn search juice.

Seeing employees as primarily ‘good news’ distributors is cynical and smacks of that terrible concept: internal marketing (which is not the same as employee engagement or internal communications). And, I can’t be alone in envisaging dozens of ‘cut and paste’ corporate posts by individual employees as a great way to annoy lots of people rather than engage them.

A similar questionable attitude is expressed by Dan Schwabel in another Forbes post. He is arguing that you should accept all requests to connect on the basis that this helps increase your Klout score and general profile. Again a quantity over quality focus.

Perhaps what I’m finding irritating about LinkedIn is common among other women as I note from Michal Clements post that women are not using LinkedIn as much or as regularly as men. She argues that this means women may be missing out on the career development and relationship building potential of engaging with LinkedIn. Recruiters using LinkedIn will be missing out on female talent if women are not using the channel as much as male counterparts.

Is it just me? Is LinkedIn operating mainly in a male way that doesn’t engage women? Is it really a useful professional network – and a valued recruitment channel? Does it offer real public relations benefits to organisations or is it another clogged up channel of puff and nonsense?

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?

Elections are poor public relations

An election may seem to be the essence of democracy – with public participation in a decision making process demonstrating engagement and a method of the majority selecting who they wish to represent them within a particular system.

As such, it ought to be good public relations – a time of relationship building, consideration of well-made arguments, co-orientation around issues of common consent and an opportunity for the views of the masses to be considered by those seeking office.

Continue reading Elections are poor public relations

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