You see women in public relations almost everywhere you go. On the face of it, the public relations industry is made up of more women than men, both on the client side and agencies. That’s just one side of the story.
When it comes to leadership positions in PR, it becomes almost like a men’s club. At the global level, less than 30% of agencies are run by women. At PRCAN, it is far worse. Over 90% of PR Consultants Association agencies are owned or headed by men.
Here are the 8 biggest challenges facing women in public relations and marketing.
1. Boy’s Club mentality and stereotypes
According to Jayne Okoronkwo, a marketing communications thinker and CEO of Creative Communication Consultants, “the long hours and nocturnal nature of the networking activities built around the boys club create serious life work imbalance for a lot of women in public relations.”
It’s important to also note that considering that they grapple with societal expectations of a patriarchal society that expects them to be and behave a certain type of way. The stereotypes leave many conflicted and limit growth in this highly male-dominated industry that views women differently.
2. Undervalued by clients
Women in public relations are sometimes undervalued or underestimated by clients.
Director of Strategy at Wax Print Media Ghana, Muhammida El Muhajir, observed that though “the communications industry is thriving for women, some clients still underestimate your talent and expertise as a woman. They can second-guess your suggestions without any justification.”
“I also find that there are times that clients want to actually pay you less or expect that you should be satisfied with what they offer even if it is below your standard rate.”
3. Double standards in domestic roles and professional demands
Unfortunately, work/life balance is still harder to achieve for women than men, especially since they bear the brunt of childcare, eldercare and domestic duties.
For women in public relations, this balancing act is harder than ever.
Funmi Modupe, former Executive Director of Brand Faces and now an education and communications consultant echoed this viewpoint saying: “The biggest players in the PR industry for decades are men. They seem to have formed a “Cartel” and raised the barriers of entry for women in public relations”.
4. Workplace structures
The pattern of men outnumbering women in senior communication leadership positions is persistent by ethnicity and gender in different PR organizations.
Of the top ten globally-ranked PR firms, only one is headed by a woman. Additionally, only one includes women in more than 50% of high-level positions. It is promising that nearly 64% of female professionals agree that their organization has on-the-job training programs to increase competency.
The scale of the workplace balance is not usually tilted in favour of women in public relations.
5. How women are seen
Women sometimes are not given the respect they deserve at a first impression. Tiffanie Smith, a Marketing Coordinator, pointed out that “in an industry where the high-level executives are mostly male dominated, women are often ignored, not taken seriously or just overlooked.”
“My best advice to a female newcomer in public relations is to always have confidence and speak up with intelligence and advocate for yourself. You have to learn to make your voice heard and express your valuable ideas no matter who is in the room listening. Women are dynamic leaders of change and women in public relations should also be viewed as such.”
Agnes Shobajo, an experienced Public Relations strategist echoed this viewpoint, saying “Gender imbalance can also be attributed to ethical challenges occasioned by myopic and chauvinistic tendencies where the PR women are viewed through rose-coloured lenses.”
6. Lack of intentional mentoring
Women in PR agree that mentorship not only provides career advice but also contributes to network building. However, results show that three out of ten female professionals admit they do not have any mentors on a consistent and strategic basis.
Whilst technical knowledge and ability are of vital importance, soft skills such as leadership, communication and strategic vision are what really elevate women to C-suite level positions.
One way that this can be overcome is through the introduction of mentoring schemes which aim to coach junior PR women professionals on how to communicate and influence at a strategic and senior level.
7. Gender-influenced pay disparity
Pay disparity arising from gender bias is another challenge facing women in public relations. The gendered perceptions about the profession and perpetuating bias against women often lead to pay differences, discriminatory practices, career progression hurdles and a potential reduction of the talent pool.
There has been tremendous improvement in recent years, but women in public relations still experience pay disparity.
8. Executive coaching and professional growth
Tolulope Olorundero, Global Public Relations Consultant and Founder, of Nigerian Women in PR, said “The public relations industry is continuously evolving, and we believe there must be a concerted effort focused on professional growth”.
“While data shows that women dominate the PR industry globally, societal and cultural limitations affect their ability to access quality resources that can support their growth. We must focus on these critical components which will be implemented through strategic partnerships and well-thought out programs.”
PR Women and the glass ceiling
Are women in public relations still being seen as client service personnel rather than strategic thinkers and game changers. Or is this more of a perception than reality?
Efe Obiomah, a PR school faculty member and the CEO of Brand Spark, observed: “It can be argued that unlike in agencies, women do occupy leadership positions as heads of corporate communications or PR directors in the banks and many other corporations.”
“However, that seems to be the peak attainable for in-house PR pros because whilst a female chief marketing officer or finance director may get a shot at becoming CEO, I have yet to meet a head of corporate communications or public relations that has reached the CEO pinnacle. Simply put, women in Public Relations in Nigeria and many parts of the world haven’t quite shattered the glass ceiling.”