Two comms perspectives on International Women's Day 2018

International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated on 8 March every year to commemorate the movement for women's rights. Here, two women give their perspective on what it means to them.

Pregnancy is the taboo we need to talk about to tackle equality, by Sarah Hall (above)

This is a story about pregnancy, children and work. It’s the story of my career. We’ve some way to go to reach gender equality.

International Women’s Day on Thursday celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.

With whole industries reverberating from the effects of #MeToo, it feels like 2018 is a breakthrough year. Let’s make it a year of solidarity, success and most of all change.

There is one area in which we can all make a difference that remains taboo.

I’m going to tell a very personal story which, although difficult, is important and a reminder to be the change we want to see.

Committed to work and to starting a family

In a previous agency role, a member of my senior management team told me I was a "ticking time bomb" because I was of the age to want children.

The fact is, he was right. I desperately wanted children and after two miscarriages had started fertility treatment.

When I did eventually share my personal circumstances with a senior, female member of the team, there was limited support.

Despite knowing I was booked at noon into a clinic for an IVF scan and injection, I was still placed under pressure to attend an internal meeting at a venue two hours away that same morning.

I made it there and back, but with the level of stress I was under, it was no wonder I didn’t get pregnant.
My view of the company culture also meant that when I experienced my third miscarriage while overseeing an office move, I felt obliged to carry on. It seemed to me that being ‘found out’ would affect my career prospects.

People and time have moved on and I’m confident that attitudes are now very different. Perhaps if I’d been more open, I could have influenced how things were.

Taking matters into my own hands

Anyway, in time I set up my own agency.

It’s been liberating and the month I started my business, I became pregnant with my first son. I had my second 16 months later. The company has grown and flourished alongside the boys.

I’ve never looked back.

The public relations industry loses senior talented women at an alarming rate.

Research published by senior public relations lecturer Liz Bridgen in April 2016 identified that while women make up about 70 per cent of our workforce, they only hold about 30 per cdent of the top positions in the industry.

Many never come back after maternity leave because they can’t secure the flexibility they need to balance work and home life successfully, or the opportunities they previously enjoyed suddenly seem to pass them by.

This has to stop. Fortunately, the "ticking time bomb" mentality is beginning to die out. Let’s accelerate it.

My call to action

Men and women in the workplace need to be willing to discuss people’s personal ambitions including around starting a family. It’s good people management and business planning.

If you’re coming back from maternity leave, be firm in needing flexibility.

If your employer isn’t prepared to consider agile working, even in this world of 24/7 media and community management, it might not be the right workplace for you.

Personal confidence aside, if you’ve the right skills and experience, it is a buyers’ market.

Enlightened workplaces recognise that rigid rules and roles hinder commercial success and stifle talent and innovation.

Many are working hard to normalise shared parental leave. When this is commonplace, we’ll have seen a major breakthrough.

If you’re an employer, review your policies and processes and consider your bias, both conscious and unconscious.

Women returners need additional support but they’ll repay it threefold. Conversely don’t expect those without children to pick up any additional burden.

We are all worth the investment and deserve equal treatment.

Finally, make your workplace somewhere where commitments outside of work are to be welcomed, whether that’s caring for children or parents, a hobby or whatever that person chooses.

External interests are good for mental health. Public relations is a very demanding business.

Sarah Hall is a PR and marketing agency owner and president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations for 2018.

The election of Donald Trump and #MeToo has taken the subject of gender equality into the mainstream, by Anna Meyer (above)

While the subject of gender equality is nothing new, the US Presidential campaign of 2016 took the subject mainstream.

Since then, gender issues have dominated the news agenda.

From Donald Trump’s comments on grabbing female body parts to the #nastywoman, #metoo and #timesup movements, to the gender pay gap and the Presidents Club scandal, our attention has been drawn to the countless biases, injustices and obstacles women all over the world have faced – and still face - in every industry.

I’m in full support of the women who have had the courage to speak up and generate a conversation surrounding these issues.

As the domino effect continues to gather pace, I believe we must move the conversation forward and transform the narrative if we want to truly effect change.

Studies have shown that girls and young women are negatively affected when they cannot see positive role models in their world, and that adult women are disadvantaged by a lack of visible female power.

Even the PR industry, which employs more women than men, struggles with the gender pay gap and female representation in senior management (according to PRCA’s recent report on diversity and inclusion).

PRWeek reported earlier this year that at senior corporate level, the pay gap can be up to an astonishing £75,000 between men and women. 

If we want to encourage more women (and more diversity generally) into the workplace, we need to stop dissuading them in the first place through endless stories of rampant sexism in business culture and significant pay gaps.

These stories will do nothing but perpetuate this negative cycle. As an industry, we are in a unique position to address this.

We are the storytellers and have a responsibility to move the industry towards fairer gender representation in the media.

I don’t just mean giving interviews to female CEOs who have nine children and a stay at home husband. This is impressive and should be celebrated, but we also need examples that are more easily relatable.

I would like us to start raising the profile of and giving more airtime to women of all ages, and at all levels, from leaders to juniors so that girls and women have a broad range of role models with whom they can identify.

Women like Emily Brooke, Founder and CEO of Blaze, the laser bike light that is now fitted on all Boris bikes in London; Foluke Akinlose, Founder of Precious Awards and advocate for women of colour in business or Alex Bertulis-Fernandes, a young creative who found herself thrust into the spotlight as a spokeswoman for feminism after one of her tweets went viral.

We need to amplify their voices and tell stories that will encourage girls and women to speak up, and enter any workplace with confidence.

We need to begin by making changes at a strategic level.

As PR practitioners, we work to develop our clients’ voices, as brands and in the media.

We need to look at these and ensure they are diverse and reflective of the different voices in our society.

There is no area of life in which one size fits all. Media representation is the same.

We need to ensure that women of different ages, ethnic backgrounds and skills are put forward as commentators, speakers and authorities in their fields.

If we want to achieve gender equality, visibility is key.

Anna Meyer is a director at Common Industry

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