When Margery Kraus founded APCO Worldwide in 1984, women didn’t predominate the PR sector—as they do these days—so there was little to no chatter throughout the industry about why it’s important to promote female PR execs to the C-suite.
“I had to fight in a different way when I built my own firm because everybody said it was impossible,” says Kraus, founder and executive chairman of APCO Worldwide, which specializes in public affairs and crisis communications. “But my mother once told me when I was little that when there’s a will there’s a way.”
Good for the PR industry that Kraus was unbowed by the naysayers and decided to press on.
More than 30 years later, APCO is considered one of the top global PR firms, with clients such as Dell, GE and Mars, among many other prestigious brands and organizations. The Washington,D.C.-based firm now has revenue of $120.6 million, according to odwyerpr.com, behind only Edelman and W20 Group.
Kraus, a trailblazer in the PR industry, is the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the PRWeek Hall of Femme (2017), PR News’ PR People Hall of Fame (2015) and Arthur W. Page Society’s Hall of Fame (2011).
Throughout her career Kraus has seen more and more women take on leadership roles throughout the PR profession.
But there’s still a lot that leaves to be desired: Women currently make up roughly 70 percent of the PR workforce and about 30 percent of senior management.
“The first 20 years [of my career] nobody asked me these questions” regarding why it’s crucial that the PR industry do a better job promoting women to senior roles and the C-suite, Kraus says.
“Progress has been slow,” she adds. “Companies need to change the opportunities for advancement because they have all these women coming up through the ranks.”
Kraus stresses that there needs to be a higher “level of consciousness” among PR firm owners and decision-makers to strike a gender balance throughout the firm and encourage both gender and ethnic diversity.
APCO global leadership team is pretty evenly divided between men and women.
“You recognize when it looks funny when [the C-suite] skews toward one gender or one race,” Kraus says, adding that having a more diverse firm is simply good business. “You have better outcomes and better products when they come from diverse sources.”
Kraus recommends three tips for PR firm owners eager to spur diversity and promote more women to senior management roles:
1. Equal pay for equal work. No mystery here. Still, it’s a psychological commitment that many PR firm owners are reluctant to make. However—in light of the groundswell for gender equality throughout the workplace—if firms continue to drag their feet in this area, customers and prospects will view them as anachronistic.
2. Embrace new ways to promote people. It’s a strain of human nature that many PR firm owners play into: promoting and elevating executives who are similar to themselves. Kraus says this is severely limiting to growing your firm. Rather than play it safe, PR owners need to develop a natural selection process that embraces female executives and provides them more opportunities for promotion. The rising stars in a PR firm do not necessarily burn brightly, and may require some nurturing.
3. Eliminate ‘unconscious bias.’ It’s easy for PR firm owners to get caught up in the day-to-day operation. However, by doing so, they fail to recognize that they’re doing the same old same old and not embracing the new. Kraus urges PR firm owners and C-suite executives that—when surveying their staff for promotions—they be cognizant of some their inherent biases and be sure not to pre-judge. If talented women and people of color think they won’t get a fair hearing at one firm, they’ll be quick to go to another PR shop where there is more opportunity and diversity is part of the firm’s DNA.
Kraus says it’s incumbent upon PR firm owners to embrace these practices if they want to continue to thrive and win new business in a digital age. “Just look at the future,” she says.
Promoting more women and having a more diverse PR field is “work in progress,” she adds, “and any way firms can expedite things will be good for the industry.”
What’s your strategy to promote more women and encourage more diversity throughout your firm?
We’d love to hear your ideas.
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