Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Sky Is Falling: Women In PR

In PR Girls and PR Boys Scott poses an interesting question:
Recent statistics show that 70% of PR practitioners are female. This is up from 50.1% in 1980 and 41% in 1979. Based on those numbers, the trend is obvious. One could argue that this increase has occurred in many sectors over the past forty years and is not restricted to public relations. Still, 70% is quite high.

For forty minutes, students in my class argued over the various reasons why females make up the bulk of public relations practitioners.

Some of the most common beliefs:

* Women are better communicators than men.
* Public relations pays better than other female dominated fields.
* The school system tends to push girls towards reading/writing and boys towards math. In other words, girls learn the core skill set needed for public relations at a younger age than boys.
* Women find public relations to be more welcoming than other business disciplines.

What do you think? Can we pinpoint it to a single reason, or is it a combination of factors?
I'd bet on the first point. (Along with a few other reasons which must wait 'til the end of this post.) But what I really want to draw your attention to are the comments. However, before I do that I should make at least one thing perfectly clear...

I'm the kind of a girl who wears her political beliefs on her sleeve ~ and in this case my sleeve is wearing the scarlet letter 'F' for Feminist. Even while I know that mentioning politics may turn off some (many?) readers here, the comments left at that blog posting makes is pretty damn near impossible for me not to say something political. You have been warned.

Comment #3 comes from Lauren who writes:
I will get hate mail for this, but are women better at deceiving others? I don't necessarily agree women are better communicators overall, but women can be more persuasive. Unfortunately some women take it to the extreme.
Et tu, Lauren? Some women are so indoctrinated by our culture that they even deal in the worst female stereotypes themselves. I won't send you hate mail, Lauren, for I'm too busy shaking my head at this (and my following points about your comment). The fact that no one really disliked Lauren's stance (Ed just laughed and Erin was too busy addressing other points) is rather irksome, but do you know what's far worse? Lauren has just called all PR people "deceiver's" ~ at a PR blog hangout no less ~ and no one stood up to defend the profession!

I'm used to folks saying crap about women and no one caring, but a gaggle of PR students and gurus and no one is going to stand up for their profession? That's very sad.

I've got more to say on this attitude regarding PR, but one thing at a time... one thing at at time... And right now, the issue is that of gender disparity in the PR field.

If Lauren's comments were saddening, these next ones are maddening.

Comment #1 comes from Greg who wrote much. Let me address each of his points while trying not to puke.
* Women, despite significant gains, still make less than men across most industries, even when education and other factors are accounted for (Data): Now, depending on which economist you talk to, there are some potentially valid reasons for a difference in market-established wages. But if your whole industry is skewed heavily female (and the trend, BTW, is only accelerating in PR), then it's reasonable to think average payscales will be lower than if the labor pool were more gender balanced.
Ah, let's blame women for lowering the pay scale in the field. Let's blame the victims of lower wages and not the "potentially valid reasons" that exist which allow for the 77 cents on the dollar and other bullshit. Hey, Greg, if your so concerned that women will ruin your paycheck, why not at least pretend to care about the women entering your field by doing whatever you can to ensure they get paid what the boys do. I may think your motivation as self-serving bastard is poor, but at least you'll be helping others along the way.
* Homogeneity weakens what we provide: Women and men think differently -- look at the cross-tabs of any wide-ranging poll and you'll spot fundamental differences. Like other professions, in PR the best thinking emerges when ideas, outlooks and attitudes all jostle, compete and distill down to wisdom and strategy. It's harder (not impossible, but harder) do that when you're working amid a big gender imbalance.
Homogeneity is fine if it's (old & white) men say in politics, but heaven help us if women 'control' something. For how many years we've had PR (and every other field or profession) dominated by males and I bet Greg didn't worry his pretty little head that each field, every industry or government was so "weakened."

The Good Old Days were full of the Good Old Boys ~ and you know what they did? They created the gender disparity in market-established wages, among other messes. Granting women no better brains, ethics or practices than men, perhaps women will create a lock on PR and demand more pay.

Greg also stated that "in PR the best thinking emerges when ideas, outlooks and attitudes all jostle, compete and distill down to wisdom and strategy." I'm gathering he thinks a female majority equals a loss of good ideas because there will be fewer men there to think of them.
* It also erodes outside perception of what we do: The bigger problem is more subtle: As the industry skews to ever-greater female dominance, PR runs the risk of becoming "a pink-collar ghetto" where the value of our profession - and those in it - is eroded in some circles.
Unless you ultimately view women as less-than, just how does a female majority in a profession automatically "erode outside perceptions" of the field?

Any replies of "pink-collar ghetto" are really just rehashing the lower pay scale issue, which I believe I've addressed above. If you want to take pride in your profession then treat all members as professionals and get on with it. Paying equal wages for equal work is part of that professional respect. If you don't like the lowering pay or fear lowered respect for yourself, then work against such practices. As man you not only have the power to effect such things, but I'd say a responsibility to do so.

If you're not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Sitting around whining that lowly, less-than women are going to ruin your field isn't a solution. Treat them as equals, pay them as such, and act with pride that so many have chosen to educate and train themselves to enter your field.

Lastly Greg's opening statement, "the outcome is bad for the profession," which was what each of these points were to prove, were echoed by Richard who used the medical field as an example. Aiy-Carumba. Says who?

None of the points listed convinced me that an ever-greater female dominance is bad for anything, let alone PR where the reins are ultimately still held by old white men.

How depressing to see what open-arms await these newly trained PR women. They aren't lepers, they are women.

Returning to the question of why so many women are entering the world of PR, I'd say that along with communication being a natural talent, PR allows for a practical science which, unlike many of the other sciences, is welcoming to women. Or at least to women who have not read posts like the above.

PR also offers a position from which to effect change at a reachable level. When I get more into PR's own public relations nightmare this will be made more clear, but for now look at entry level business positions and see which fields have the greater potential for change. It's not accounting.

Also consider the options that PR folks have. They are out & about, visible, and can change companies quite easily without changing their skill sets. For younger generations who never saw dad get a gold watch for 70 years of service, they know that careers can be kept, but jobs and companies change. PR offers a practical flexibility where the product and name on the paycheck changes but the duties do not.

Why wouldn't a woman choose PR?

(...Unless she's uncomfortable with being called a dirty, dirty whore? *wink*)

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Sherrilynne Starkie said...

Great rant! Well said.

March 22, 2007 6:05 PM  
Blogger Marketing Whore said...

Thanks for stopping by, Sherrilynne. (Here's a corrected link to her blog.)

March 23, 2007 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Rob Vagabond said...

Forgive this long post. You're one of the more interesting presences in the blog community. I wanted to shoot an arrow your way.

As a young man who is considering a career in strategic communication, I appreciate your alternative views on the gender issue. However, a few of these discussion points are really irksome.

For one,

"None of the points listed convinced me that an ever-greater female dominance is bad for anything, let alone PR where the reins are ultimately still held by old white men."

Why do you think old white PR men are in the C-suite more than women? Given the high turnover rate of PR jobs, do you think women really want PR to be their long-term profession?

(this point is not totally related to the gender imbalance but it's worth noting) Why are the terms "PR and public relations" so widely used and accepted? These phrases encompass a variety of ambiguous meanings and actions.

In business to business communications, "PR" sells well. Public relations firms hold banquets and give themselves awards for doing work. Clever, this helps boost billing rates and client retention. PR for PR.

Closer to the fact, these terms carry little weight in the real world. Many young professionals, students, and average Joes and Janes don’t know what “public relations” means. Even more of them view "PR" as propaganda, bullshit, "suck-Satan's-cock jobs" (from Bill Hicks fans), spin, or anything presented under false pretense.

All that said, I don't see why women would want to flock to such tumultuous waters.

Second,

Gender dominance in the field of strategic communication is not good for either side, whether it's male or female. Your point about women being better communicators by nature is not really true to strategic communication. PR pros are trying to win clients by preserving their interests and persuading important groups more than they are trying to communicate natural human needs.

Finally, I agree that strategic communication offers flexibility with daily tasks and projects. However, it also requires one to have fewer scruples than in another chosen field. Client interests and monetary incentives often trump the thin skin of business ethics.

I dunno. I think the profession is idealized to some degree.

Am I out of line? It could be that women joining the PR guild is not adding to the problem of PR's overall misuse and misconception. If you're not part of the problem, are you part of the solution?

-Rob

March 25, 2007 4:12 PM  
Blogger Marketing Whore said...

Hello, Rob :)

I most certainly will address your points ~ in a blog post (or two?). I have a few other things to publish/comment on first. But will get to this this week.

March 25, 2007 8:30 PM  

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