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International Women's Day: #ChooseToChallenge in PR

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

It has a catchy name and is trending on social media, but how does it apply to women in PR?

International Women's Day, a global holiday recognized by the United Nations in 1977, celebrates women's achievements and aims to further their rights. Each year there's a theme and it's #ChooseToChallenge this year. It takes on many meanings for people across the world, but here's what I'd like to challenge on behalf of myself and other women in public relations (PR.)


Advertising and PR were male dominated until quite recently, just like every other paid position beyond nursing, secretarial work, childcare and a few others. In today's PR landscape however, things have shifted and the number of women in the field heavily outweighs that of men. There are some industries within the PR world, like tech and finance, that have a larger male representation — go figure those are the lucrative industries — but by and large, practitioners are female. It's also true that PR isn't always taken as seriously as other branches of marketing. This is because PR professionals can struggle with quantitatively measuring success of campaigns because the value of earned media placements is ultimately subjective. We measure things like sentiment – algorithms assess the language and word connotations in an article to calculate the percent value its positivity or negativity toward a brand, product or person. We also track impressions and estimated monthly viewers of an outlet to tabulate an estimated number of eyeballs that saw a placement. However, what is the meaning of this "woman's job" business? Automatically, PR is dismissed not for the reason I listed above, which is meritorious in truth, but because an association with women devalues and more importantly, degrades, the work. A "woman's job" is lowly, requires little skill and precision, is less deserving of competitive wages, nonessential and simply lesser. This is however, poppycock. Diversity, inclusion and cultural awareness is proven to be beneficial to PR in a number of ways. A team of diverse communicators is able to produce content that resonates with various communities more authentically and to brainstorm more creative and out of the box ideas. This diversity, while typically assumed to mean racially diverse, also applies to genders. A team of all women, while arguably a power team, would benefit from a male perspective and not because a male voice is more valuable or accurate. Rather, it's just as valuable as the female perspective; balance is always key. Public relations requires a high level of creativity, impeccable time management and multitasking, writing and editing, attention to detail, likability, persuasion, conflict management, client relations and so many more soft skills to thrive. It's not rocket science but isn't all intuition and common sense. It's talent and skill, just like any other respectable industry.


Recent studies show that 75% of PR practitioners are women but only 20% hold leadership positions. What's wrong with this picture? Well, pretty much everything because balance matters, especially at the leadership level. A study conducted by the Institute of Public Relations and KPMG took these stats and dug deeper to determine why this phenomenon persists. Here's some of what they found:

  • Sexism persists and women felt excluded from the "boys club" at work.

  • Almost no male respondents said they'd experienced discrimination at work but almost every female had.

  • Work-life balance was a challenge for women, particularly those pursuing leadership positions.

It's no secret that women still climb an uphill battle in the workplace but I'm continually shocked that the hill is so steep, even after successful and significant strides toward equity. Empowering and enabling the female voice in top-level leadership discussions and decisions is important to achieve and maintain balance of opinion, background, world view and ideology to promote a creative and open space for people to engage with one another to make the company most successful.


Now that we've talked about a lack of female representation in leadership, let's talk about PR's representation in leadership. In general, the mark of a progressive company lies within the C-suite. Is it mostly men? Is it white-washed? And most importantly, is there a chief communications officer? There will almost always be a chief marketing officer and if that person also knows enough about PR and internal communications all should be well, but this is pretty rare. Communications, still largely chalked up to common sense, oftentimes gets overlooked and underrepresented at the leadership level, which has significant and wide reaching impacts. Much gets looked over when making sweeping decisions without a communications person at the table to provide expertise. Companies can overlook things like cultural competency, consumer backlash, public opinion, internal communications, reputation risk and management and so much more. Without a seat at the table however, communications professionals are left powerless to influence the way things are done.


If you put two and two together – that is 75% of people in PR are women and 20% are in leadership positions – it's not hard to assume then that the men who are in PR are being paid more than their women counterparts. In 2019, PR Week said that The Public Relations and Communications Association reported a 20.7% median gender pay gap in PR. That means that if a woman is paid $50,000 annually, her male colleague is paid $60,350 for doing the same job. So if PR is a woman's job, why do men get paid more to do the lowly work? Note that I know these generalizations are reflective of everyone's views. What's to be done about an issue as systemic as this however? Obviously much of the onus is on companies and HR departments to ensure all employees are paid fairly, equitably and at competitive industry rates. However, there are things individual women can do to help themselves:

  • Never give a salary range first. Instead, ask them what the company's pay range is. If you're a new employee they're legally obligated to tell you.

  • Do your research. Know what competitive salaries for your position and years of experience are.

  • Have a goal number in mind. After your research, decide on a money value that you feel is your goal and don't be afraid to stick to it. If they say no then at least you tried.

  • Always start higher than your goal. If you want to make no less than $50,000 then you should probably start with a number like $57,000. They'll start with something way low so hopefully you'll each make concessions toward each other and end at a happy medium.

  • You're not being too aggressive. Unless you're naturally a boss bitch, hardball negotiations might feel too aggressive or opportunistic. It's not. It's very normal, expected and necessary to get what you want and need for a competitive offer. Also, it's considered skill negotiation when men do this but aggressive when women do it. Again, poppycock.


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