The feminization of the PR industry is undeniable, and it’s not a particularly good thing. For one, it hurts diversity. And it’s been widely noted that the domination of any profession by women tends to have a depressing effect on salaries. A recently debated 2007 PRSA study confirmed what we already knew: that men earn up to $30,000 more than women for the same work. Now, that is depressing.
It’s International Women’s Day, and we’re reminded of the enormous challenges faced by women the world over, as well as the stubborn salary inequity here at home. In fact, the big-picture statistics make the PR wage gap seem like small change, and one that’s easily closed. With our advantages, we should be able to catch up quickly in a female-dominated industry, shouldn’t we?
Yet, the gap persists, probably because 80% of senior PR managers are male. But, why? Women take time off to raise children, of course. Yet, even allowing for family leave and “mommy trackers,” the gap is wider than it should be, say the experts.
Some say women just need time, but that doesn’t wash. Females have dominated PR for decades, yet the number of C-level women at large PR firms is static or declining. And, I hate to say it, but just because women are in HR and middle management does not mean that we hire and promote in our own image. On the contrary, the feminization of PR makes qualified men more sought after…and very possibly, better paid.
But there’s another likely reason for the salary gap. Apparently, women don’t ask for what they’re worth, either when starting a new job, or afterwards. A Carnegie Mellon study showed that women ask for raises or promotions 85% less often than male counterparts. The study is rife with discouraging facts, but for my money, the most telling are the metaphors chosen by the participants. While men compare salary negotiations to a sports competition, a majority of women liken them to a visit to the dentist. Ouch.
I think we’re on to something here. It’s hard to catch up if you’re behind at the starting gate. In today’s workplace, you have to negotiate, ideally from a position of confidence and in a spirit of win-win. To do that, you need to believe you’re worth it. I do think women know their worth, but my suspicion is that, in PR, where we’re often trained to promote others while we stay in the background, we wait for recognition. As Professor Karen Pine, a psychology professor and co-author of “Sheconomics,” puts it, “Many women think, ‘As long as I work really, really hard, someone will notice and they will pay me more.’” But they don’t.
Clearly, there are many things at work in the PR business. Women can benefit from better mentoring, more flexible work schedules, smart use of technology, and an “old-girl” network at the top. These and other factors have been noted by PRSA, The Council of PR Firms, and the handful of women who run large agencies.
But, it pays to ask. So, I have a suggestion for every woman out there who thinks she’s underpaid. Behave as if you were promoting your most important client, – yourself. Gather the facts, make the case, take your inspiration, and pitch. And then, keep on pitching. And don’t take no for an answer.