Why are there so many women in PR? Seventy-three percent of PRSA‘s membership is female, and it puts the total number of women in the profession at 80 percent or higher.
It wasn’t always that way. Thirty years ago, men were actually in the majority at PR agencies and companies. Today, women predominate, especially at most PR firms. Some say it’s because we’re better multitaskers. Others think it’s because we’re natural relationship-builders.
Ugh. Those explanations seem simplistic and a little insulting to both men and women. But in fairness, many of the possible factors for PR’s gender gap are uncomfortable. And if it’s not about our juggling abilities or people talents, what are the reasons? Recently the gender balance at our agency was tipped and for the moment, at least, we employ more men than women. We were talking about how unusual that is and it made me want to find out why. After speaking with colleagues and academics, here are my best theories.
Media stereotypes. Maybe it’s as simple as the, um, PR for PR. The Samantha Jones-type party planner or fashion publicist is a popular media cliche, probably because it’s more entertaining than a technology PR or financial services communications specialist. But Samantha and similar characters are representative of a “girly” PR stereotype that’s not very welcoming to males and could very well have had a deterrent effect among those who don’t really understand what communications is all about.
Women like to hire other women. I’m not buying this one, mainly because I know many female agency founders or executives who would love to hire more qualified men to balance out their staff ratio. But the predominance of females could discourage men who might otherwise enter our industry.
University courses attract women. Someone recently pointed out to me that while PR and communications are typically found in the journalism track at universities, marketing and advertising are usually offered within a business studies school or major. It’s not so farfetched to reason that more men might gravitate to those disciplines found within a B-school track.
PR is flexible. Like other consulting services, PR can offer part-time and scheduling options, which may be one reason it attracts females. At the same time, agency hours are long and the work can be very demanding, so I’m on the fence about this one.
What does it all mean? A gender gap this wide isn’t healthy. For one thing, it hurts diversity, which is important in a creative services profession where reaching a variety of customer segments is typically a goal. But it’s also feared that the “feminization” of PR, like any other profession, is correlated with lower salaries.
Yet there is a bright side. For women, there are plenty of colleagues and role models on the agency side. If you’re male, and you’ve got what it takes to succeed, you can easily differentiate yourself.
An even more intriguing question may be why, despite the prevalence of women in PR, most top agencies are run by men. But that’s a topic for another post.