Finding the answer to one of PR's big questions: Why such a gender imbalance?

I want to hear about gender imbalance - specifically, why a far greater number of women are majoring in communications now than men?

As I file this, I am heading to Athens, GA, to attend an advisory council meeting at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

My first visit to the school, I’m looking forward to engaging with my fellow advisory council members, as well as with the faculty and staff of Grady's Department of Advertising and Public Relations.  While my own undergraduate degree is in history, as a lifelong communications professional, I'm especially curious to hear their thoughts about three questions of mine.  

First, how does higher education keep up with the dramatically changing landscape of the public relations practitioner, for whom the digital world has surpassed print? Second, how are courses beyond the 101 level determined for a communications major? 

More provocatively, third, I want to hear about gender imbalance – specifically, why a far greater number of women are majoring in communications now than men?  Granted, women have edged out men among college enrollees since the early 2000s, and are now at 57%. But while I haven’t seen the statistics, the tilt seems even more dramatic in communications-related majors.

The question came up quite pointedly when I was on a panel at Georgetown University for masters of professional studies in public relations and corporate communications candidates not long ago. We were discussing public relations agency life and career paths to a crowd of graduate students anxious to learn about job opportunities. The very first question, from a young woman, was, "Why are nearly all of my classmates women?  Where are the men?" 

I had that question myself when a group of Grady seniors visited Washington recently for packed days visiting agencies, hearing from various Obama administration officials, and also, stopping by the White House press room, which I suspect they found less glamorous than it looks on TV.  It was a smart, dynamic, engaged group of students – with, for the first time, not a male among them.  

What’s going on? Several easy answers pop to mind: Women are by nature more communicative. We’re better multitaskers, a critical success factor in agency life and communications positions generally. We’re more willing to put passion for our work over the higher compensation of, say, financial-sector jobs. Or perhaps journalism – a gateway to communications – was one of the first fields that offered great opportunities for women, less hierarchy, and more meritocracy, a chance to break the glass ceiling, and terrific role models, from Barbara Walters on. And those advantages continue. 

Margaret Fuller, the pioneering 19th century woman journalist and rights advocate, once referred to "the especial genius of women I believe to be electrical in movement, intuitive in function, spiritual in tendency." Maybe a career in communications calls for that kind of genius.

What do you think? I'm curious to know your views on why the growing dominance of women majoring in communications and filling cubicles and desks in our agencies (although not yet enough C-Suites, but that will happen with time).

Email me your thoughts and I'll compile your opinions for a follow-up piece on this topic for PRWeek

Margaret Dunning is MD at Widmeyer Communications, a Finn Partners Company.

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