PR is an attractive career option for women: 70% of PR professionals in America, 69% in Canada, and 64% in the UK are women. This is a huge increase from the 1970s, when women in the US comprised only 27% of the PR workforce.
However, it's no great secret that the number of women falls as you go up the seniority chain. In Canada, the number of women in senior management positions (across all industries, I should add) fell year-on-year from 28% in 2011 to 25% in 2012.
Why is this happening? A PR friend recently admitted that since getting pregnant, she felt a glass ceiling had appeared in her career. She struggled to see how to marry her leadership position with motherhood.
Friends in the legal profession experience similar issues. Why? PR firms – like law firms – sell their time to clients. Time is a precious commodity, and being there for clients when they need us is fundamental to our role, making the concept of flexibility challenging.
This trend is not only detrimental to the employee, but it affects the company as well. Highly skilled individuals are leaving the workforce, and it's in the interest of employers to prevent this from happening.
How can this be addressed? Employers and employees have to work together to find solutions that work for both of them. Ideas to explore include.
Job share schemes: If you have two women in leadership roles on a part-time basis, then job-sharing can be empowering. Constant communication is key if this is to work; for people in the PR industry this shouldn't be a stumbling block.
Part-time working: When job-sharing isn't an option, then part-time can be considered, although it's not always realistic. If you manage huge clients, they may need you to be available 24/7. Often individuals “leading” teams on a part-time basis make themselves readily available outside their set hours to make this solution practical.
Flexible working: Flexible working hours that break the 9 am to 5 pm model is a great way to enable employees to balance work with personal priorities. SAP, a business management software company, is an exceptional example of this. Many employees can work from home and do the school run in-between work, while staying connected on-the-move via their mobile device.
Mentorship: Whether it's inside the workplace or an outside organization, offering female-to-female mentorship can be a great support for those individuals juggling multiple priorities.
Recognition: Finally, it's important to celebrate successful women leaders in the PR world. PRWeek in the US is playing its own role through its 2012 US Power List, which featured 17 women. This recognizes successful women and provides role models for aspiring PR employees, too.
The huge influx of women working in the PR industry since the 1970s is positive. The next hurdle will be to see the percentage of women working in the industry represented across all levels of the PR machine. It's an achievable goal if employers and employees work collaboratively to make it a reality.
Charlotte Sherry is an account director at Peak Communicators, western Canada's largest independent PR firm. She is also the marketing and communications manager at Women in Leadership.