Anyone who has spent time lately in college classrooms speaking to students in PR and communication disciplines has seen first-hand an unmistakable trend. The field is finding it increasingly difficult to attract male students. I have spoken on a half dozen campuses in addition to my own in the last year, and the gender ratio I'm seeing is about 70% female; some of the classes I taught didn't have a single male student.
To be certain that what I experienced wasn't a random anomaly, I checked with the Public Relations Student Society of America, the largest membership group for PR students. Their most recent member survey revealed that 89% of current members are female, based on more than 1,100 responses out of its 9,600 members at 284 academic institutions.
It's hard to identify with certainty the reasons behind this trend. I've asked younger colleagues their opinions, and generally they believe it has to do with the perceived monetary reward - or lack there of - that certain professions promise. As one of them (a male) put it, "There's a widespread perception, with some hint of reality, that entry-level positions at many PR firms are low paying, regardless of gender. This is a turn-off for young men just leaving school. Male college grads come out of the chute very competitive. They often equate 'best' with most financially rewarding."
I have personally mentored some outstanding young women at the College of Charleston, and I'm delighted that we are successfully attracting these new leaders to PR. Yet, I feel the gender imbalance we are now seeing is a troubling one, just as troubling as it would be if males dominated the student populations.
Why? For the same reasons that virtually any gender imbalance raises issues. More than in some other professions, ours should look like the society it serves. We work in a relationship-based profession, both by definition and practice. We serve audiences that reflect a wide range of diverse attributes, including gender. To best serve them we need to best understand them, and it helps if we share their demographic qualities - age, ethnicity, education, and gender.
We need to reach out in creative, new ways to bright young men on our college campuses and remind them of the many attributes a career in the communications field offers. We're clearly not having trouble getting this message across to young women. If we can attract the best students of both genders, our profession will be better equipped to meet tomorrow's challenges.
Tom Martin is an executive-in-residence, Department of Communication, the College of Charleston. He also serves as a senior counselor for Feldman & Partners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.