Ian Monk: What happened to all the blokes?

The unsolicited questionnaire was speculative but the initiative merited a response.

The sender was a PR and media studies undergraduate and her survey contained a dozen crisp questions about our industry.

One question was 'would you go out of your way to hire a male because of the scarcity value of such creatures in PR'? It seemed less than provocative until the explanatory note indicated that more than 90 per cent of the sender's class were female, with men outnumbered 11 to one.

This seemed a freakish imbalance. However, a few further enquiries showed that, although greater than some, it was not untypical of the demographics in universities and colleges up and down the country.

Set aside for the moment the doubt that media and PR studies degrees actually come close to the ideal preparation for a career in either field. Rather, ponder how amiss things are when, in an age that celebrates diversity, a supposedly mature industry's recruiting grounds seem to exclude half the human race.

A decade or more ago, this discrepancy might have been ascribed to average PR industry salaries being beneath male aspirations. However, it may not be an apposite analysis for 2011.

Surely, though, an industry whose raison d'etre is communication across boundaries should be deeply concerned about such an inbuilt and apparently developing divide. Whether discrimination or happenstance, such a fundamental disparity merits investigation and potentially action.

Any perception of PR being a girly or fluffy industry - and I do not use the words pejoratively of either gender - is wrong and ultimately must be damaging to the growth of the industry. It sets a wrong stereotype for potential and current clients and misleading preconceptions of artificial barriers to entry for future employees.

Quotas for men would come close to being the ultimate 'not the bloke' joke. But for heaven's sake let's work out ways to give the guys a break.

- Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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