Women, Leadership and PR

It’s a gap throughout PR field that could seriously damage the industry’s reputation if it doesn’t change its tune. And fast.

We refer to the increasing number of women working throughout the PR profession—among both middle managers and senior account executives—but not necessary in the C-suite.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women hold 61 percent of all PR jobs and 59 percent of all PR managers are female. However, only 30 percent of all global PR agencies are run by women, says the 2014 World PR Report.

The above stats are a shame, particularly when you consider myriad leadership skills that women bring to the table.

Indeed, women outperformed men in four out of five leaderships categories: initiative and clear communication; openness and ability to innovate; sociability and supportiveness and methodical management and goal setting. That’s according to a recent study of nearly 3,000 business managers. The one category in which men won out: Dealing with work-related stress.

The study was conducted by Professor Øyvind L. Martinsen, head of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at the BI Norwegian Business School.

“These findings pose a legitimate question about the construction of management hierarchy and the current dispensation of women in these roles,” Martinsen told the Independent.

Martins added that, despite the survey findings suggesting that women have a higher tendency to worry than men, “this does not negate the fact that women are decidedly more suited to management positions than their male counterparts. If decision-makers ignore this truth, they could effectively be employing less qualified leaders and impairing productivity.”

With regard to a lack of PR women in the C-suite, the status quo simply cannot hold. Not when an overwhelming number of women are getting into the business following college (and the number of men working in the field declines). Not with the current (and greying) generation of PR firm owners thinking about selling their firms and starting anew. Not when women—generally more active users of social channels than men—are developing many of the new ways for how to communicate with consumers in a post-digital age.

“PR firms need to pay explicit attention to growing their women for key management positions in their businesses,” said Margery Kraus, founder and executive chairman of APCO Worldwide, who is one of the top thought leaders in global PR. “More than half of our leaders are women and we are always on the lookout for good talent without regard to gender, but realize that sometimes you have to give special encouragement to the women who are often less aggressive about coming forward for new opportunities.”

PR firm owners need to ask themselves sharper questions about how to promote more women to the C-suite, lest they want their firms to be considered behind the times.

To avoid that, here are few ways that PR firm/agency owners can increase the number of women in the C-suite.

• Boost Opportunity. PR firm owners need to expand their horizon and consider more women when it comes time not only to promote executives to top management but plan for succession. Owners short-change themselves—and play into stereotypical behavior—when they don’t elevate more females to top management. And when you consider the growing force of women throughout PR—whether driving social media or business development—some PR owners run the risk of losing some very talented women executives if they fail to adequately promote them. Simply retaining the most talented women won’t cut it.

• Enhance Training. Training is the PR industry’s Achilles’ heel. PR firm owners can help to improve the situation by selecting women executives who have excelled on the job for C-level type training programs. Allow these executives to sit in on meetings concerning internal challenges for the firm (monetizing social channels, profitability, utilization, IT issues, employee relations) as well as external (client relations, media relations and PR measurement).

• Encourage Camaraderie. Sure, PR is a pressure-cooker, clients want the campaign baked and ready to go ten minutes after they ask for it and the work just piles up. Despite the constant time-squeezing, however, PR firm owners need to make room to unwind with their staff members and get to know their personalities beyond the day-to-day operation. This gives owners an opportunity to interface with female executives and get a sharper sense for those women working at the firm who can inspire their colleagues, think differently and grow the business—all prerequisites for succeeding in the C-suite.

The industry has miles to go, but must get on track. PR owners like to consider themselves in the vanguard of business and creativity. But here’s one area that they seriously need to pick up the slack.

Kraus said, “If the people at the top are not creating the right atmosphere and sending the right signals to the rest of the company, the aspirations of the great younger women who are recruited will be impacted and they will not stick around.”


Rick Gould, CPA, J.D., managing partner of Gould+Partners, is the author of “The Ultimate PR Agency Financial Management Handbook: How to Manage By The Numbers for Breakthrough Profitability of 20% or Greater,” and “Doing It The Right Way: 13 Crucial Steps For A Successful PR Agency Merger Or Acquisition.”

Matthew Schwartz contributed to this article.

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