Women of PR tackle the pay gap, leadership roles, and work-life balance

PRWeek also honored the first inductees into its Hall of Femme and 36 Champions of PR during Tuesday morning's event.

The women of PR gathered to discuss the challenges and successes of working in the industry at PRWeek’s Hall of Femme event Tuesday. The event, held in New York, in partnership with Hill+Knowlton Strategies, included a panel discussing how to better support and advance women in the PR world and a ceremony honoring the 36 Champions of PR and the inaugural group of women of the Hall of Femme.

The event was an opportunity to celebrate the innovative and hard working women in the PR industry and discuss best practices for ensuring women have the same opportunities as their male colleagues. The PR industry is roughly 60 percent women (some studies suggest an even higher number), but women are far less represented in leadership and c-suite positions.

The panel of thought leaders discussed eliminating the gender pay gap, promoting more women to leadership roles, and supporting women in their work and personal lives. The panelists included Kristy Wallace, president of Ellevate Network; Latraviette Smith, SVP of communications at Sundial Brands; Kelly Parisi, head of communications and marketing at Lean In; Beth Balsam, U.S. president and CEO of Hill+Knowlton; and Catherine Mathis, SVP and CCO at McGraw-Hill Education.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies recently conducted an extensive pay audit to ensure  fairness in its compensation practices amd managers in particular will receive unconscious bias training to break down any barriers to advancement and compensation for women and other minority candidates.

"We want to take the whole pay equity thing off the table. When you come to work you need to look to the left and look to the right and understand that someone is not being treated differently because they're a man or woman," said Balsam.

Panelists said that while women have made strides in the past few decades, there’s still a long way to go. The push for maternity leave, work-life balance, and equal pay is largely coming from the changing expectations of the work environment.

"We're seeing real changes to our business because there are so many millennials in the workforce," Mathis said.

Panelists agreed that the best way to promote a work-life balance in our workaholic culture is to lead by example. Women often feel guilty for checking out right at 5 p.m. or fear that taking time off will hurt their career, but that culture needs to change, the panelists said.

"What’s really important is that it be modelled at the top," Parisi said. "Mark Zuckerberg famously took paternity leave and gave other men the opportunity to do the same."

Wallace said her personal experience when she had her children taught her a lesson about taking time off.

"You are not making excuses or apologizing for having a family, it’s a positive thing," Wallace said.

The panelists each issued a call to action to decision makers in PR, which included addressing the pay gap, understanding and appreciating the differences between genders, promoting more women, being a lifelong learner, and listening to the workforce and employees.

"Diversity isn’t defined by one group, whether it’s gender based, race or ethnicity based, or LGBT, it’s something for everyone," Smith said. "You need to recognize who is in your employee base and understand what they need to thrive."

The nine Hall of Femme inductees, announced in April, were Gail Heimann of Weber Shandwick, Karen Hughes of Burson-Marsteller, Aedhmar Hynes of Text100, Donna Imperato of Cohn & Wolfe, Barri Rafferty of Ketchum, D’Arcy Rudnay of Comcast, Mónica Talán of Univision Communications, Karen van Bergen of Omnicom PR, and Charlene Wheeless of Bechtel.

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