This year's celebration of Women's History Month is especially meaningful to me as I reflect not only on my role as 2006 PRSA president, but on the history of women in PR.
Last year, I had the privilege of serving as chair of the PRSA Historical Archive Project task force where I became immersed in the history of the Society and our profession. While reviewing newspaper clippings from the 1940s, I found it ironic that women were demanding equal pay and fighting the perception that having women in senior management posts would somehow diminish the perceived value of the PR profession. We can thank those early pioneers for making my role as president possible.
We can celebrate the achievements of Betsy Plank, who, in 1973, served as the PRSA's first female national president. Her illustrious career included executive posts at AT&T and Edelman. The only person to win three of the PRSA's top honors for professionals - the Gold Anvil in 1977, the Paul Lund Award in 1989, and the Patrick Jackson Award in 2001 - she is best known today for championing PR education. Plank was recently honored when the PRSA Foundation established an endowment in her name for undergraduate scholarships.
It would be many years before we would celebrate other firsts for women in the PRSA and the profession. A few that come to mind are: Ruby Miller, the first African-American national board member of the PRSA in 1988; Dr. Debra Miller, the first African-American national president in 1997; Helen Ostrowski of Porter Novelli and Marcia Silverman of Ogilvy, the first two women to serve as CEOs of major PR firms in 2002; and Rosanna Fiske, the first Hispanic woman elected to the PRSA national board in 2004.
In 1990, the PRSA initiated a series of gender studies. The results echoed the findings of research from the 1940s, revealing that major salary differences still existed between men and women, regardless of experience, age, and education. For many women, the glass ceiling is intact.
The study has been repeated every five years with similar results. The only difference: According to the 2000 US Census Bureau, women now account for 60% of the PR work force.
The results of the 2006 PRSA study are due to be unveiled at our international conference in Salt Lake City later this year. I hope that the study currently being conducted under the lead of Elizabeth Toth, communications professor at the University of Maryland, will show progress has been made and will offer insight on achieving a work-life balance.
Many women still struggle with the issue of balancing work, family, and community responsibilities. The skills I've honed as a PR pro have served me well in creating that delicate work-life balance - listening, negotiating, communicating, networking, and researching. I'm further encouraged by the success of so many women who significantly impact our profession while nurturing their families and communities.
To honor the female spirit, I encourage all women to help dispel the myth that has plagued us for decades. We can do and have it all - just not all in one day.
Cheryl Procter-Rogers is the president and CEO of the PRSA, as well as regional corporate affairs director for HBO.