What does the departure of senior women in the industry say to the next generation of female leaders?

Another new year and another raft of departures and new beginnings announced in agencyland; no real surprises there, as it is the season.

Do not be put off by the recent departures of senior women, urges Jo Carr
Do not be put off by the recent departures of senior women, urges Jo Carr

Yet what seems particularly striking about this year's 'transfer window' is just how many of the departures are of women.

Now, I don't have the inside track as to what's prompted them to change roles, but I trust each has done so for very valid and life-affirming reasons, for which I applaud them.

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And quite frankly it's none of my – or anyone's – business.

What I do know is that they'll continue to be influential, either within the businesses they are part of – or become part of in the future – as well as in representative roles across the industry.

But it did make me wonder how such high-level departures might be interpreted by other women looking to progress within the PR industry.

Might we read from these departures that being at the top of the business in PR is still 'no place for a woman'?

We all know that PR is a female-dominated industry. Depending on who you ask, upwards of 65 per cent of PR practitioners in the UK are female.

It's equally well-documented that when it comes to the people running agencies, it's the men in the top jobs – at the last count, only about 30 per cent of global agencies have a woman at the helm.

That's a big gap, and to lose so many of them in one fell swoop feels particularly unjust, even "careless" (as Oscar Wilde might have observed).

Based on those statistics, it's not as though we have many to spare.

Might we read from these departures that being at the top of the business in PR is still 'no place for a woman'?

Jo Carr, co-founder and managing partner at Hope&Glory

So, if I was talking to my 28-year-old self, what would I say to her about aiming for the top?

I would say that there has never been a better time to be a woman in our industry.

First, I would point out that the cut-throat world of business is, at long last, recognising qualities in leadership that have for centuries been second nature to us: empathy, humility, persuasiveness, entrepreneurial spirit and resilience.

Second, I would celebrate the fact that we're entering into a decade where 'bringing one's whole self to work' is the new corporate battle cry.

As someone who has always had a tendency to over-share, I'm so pleased that we no longer have to pretend that a world outside of work doesn't exist.

Some of us do have children, we do have caring responsibilities, we do have complicated relationships, we do have health concerns.

We certainly have periods, pregnancies, miscarriages, the menopause.

What a relief to be finally allowed to voice those things and no longer be judged for it (for any gender).

Third, my 28-year-old self might be interested to reflect on the fact that the workplace has become more flexible (again, for all of us), meaning it's now easier to come to work via a nursery drop-off, or duck out mid-afternoon to attend the school nativity play.

And thank goodness for the raft of technological advancements – from laptops to mobiles, Skype to Zoom – which mean you can now work from anywhere.

There's plenty more to do, of course, and we're not there yet.

But from my vantage point, boards across PR-land are becoming more balanced and diverse.

There are plenty of examples of women making senior roles their own, and I'd predict that will only continue.

So, aspiring C-suiters – take heart. Look beyond the recent headlines, and know that there is all to play for. 

Jo Carr is co-founder and chief client officer at Hope&Glory


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