According to the latest CIPR’s Annual State of the PR Profession Survey, the PR jobs market is dominated by women (65 per cent are female), yet men are more likely to hold a senior management or director position and are almost twice as likely to be earning a salary in excess of $70,000.
Of course there should be more women at board level in PR, but as with other professions, it is hard balancing having a family with a demanding job, and it‘s usually women who take on the brunt of childcare.
Yet some women with families do succeed. Jane Wilson, CEO at the CIPR says it is not easy to pinpoint exactly what women who hold down top jobs have in common. But she can draw on her own experience: “From a personal perspective, I suppose I am a woman in a senior role in public relations and I’ve been at board level or similar positions since my late twenties. As I look at my career, I cannot honestly say that I’ve found it harder to succeed because of my gender. But I’ve had to make choices about my priorities at different stages in my life.
“When I was younger I was free to work and play hard with few other time commitments. Now that I have other personal responsibilities, including young children, I manage my life in a different way. I’m lucky though. I have always had a great network of friends and family who supported my career and helped me out.
Wilson concludes that ultimately, women with families require a great support system: “The more responsibilities you have in your life – and the majority of women as child bearers do tend to have more – the better the support network you need. Whether that’s a supportive husband, a great nanny or an inspiring boss who pays for your professional development. If you can focus on the job in hand, you’re more likely to at least start on an even footing to your male counterparts.”
Another way to encourage women with families is to allow them to work flexibly. Lisa Doherty, marketing manager at PR agency Nelson Bostock Group, says this is vital and PR firms must have flexible working practices if they want to hold on to talented staff. However, she believes the PR industry is slow to adopt such practices, probably because it’s service based and therefore wants to be constantly available to clients, staff and fellow senior colleagues. She advises learning from clients: “Most of us, at some point, have worked with clients that have a flexible working policy, with some of them even having incentive schemes to get women back to work following maternity leave. It’s surprising then that the PR industry hasn’t followed suit quite as quickly, especially in such a female-dominated industry, and when you consider how much we invest in employees, not to mention the knowledge and expertise that is being lost.”
Doherty says that flexible working is easy to implement and improves productivity. “We currently have members of staff working flexibly – myself included – and over a year later it’s still working well for me. People now recognize when I’m in the office and structure meetings/deadlines accordingly. I have not yet encountered any negative reactions or any barriers when discussing career advancement.
“Flexible working increases productivity. When you’re only in the office a set amount of time, you tend to be more focused and need to make sure you are on top of your game, as well as your workload. So, with a bit more open-minded flexibility from PR employers there should be no reason why women can’t make it to the top in PR.”