Common wisdom has always held that public relations is a female-friendly and female dominated field. Those outside the industry have always assumed that PR is a particularly women-heavy arena, and after many years in the business, I can happily and undoubtedly say they’re right!
In my personal experience, women have always accounted for the majority of the workforce at PR agencies. However, what’s concerning to me is that despite our numbers, women often continue to be under-represented in top positions within the industry despite their talent, drive and dedication.
As the mother of a daughter currently entering her second year of college — who happens to be gutsy, clever and unwilling to let anyone stand in the way of her goals — I’m compelled to make equality in the workplace a priority not only for her and the next generation of women leaders, but for women currently forging paths in PR.
According to a recent “Women in the Workplace” report from McKinsey & Company, the path to leadership is disproportionately stressful for women. Fears of balancing family and work, worries about their competence in leadership positions and concerns over lack of internal — i.e., company — support are among the reasons offered by women regarding why they think they can’t get to the top.
Closing the leadership gap
There are steps we can take within the industry to help alleviate these fears and help women to succeed and grow their careers. We can:
Demonstrate to female employees that our agency is behind them in every step of their careers. Women tend to anticipate and ruminate more than men, and we need to spend time supporting and empowering our women employees to make decisions and help them believe in themselves, their ideas, decisions and know-how to build their confidence.
Build training programs that matter and are personal and targeted to her needs. Invite guest speakers for interactive lunch-and-learn sessions (topics can be on anything from skills development, such as public speaking to inspirational stories of women who are at the top of their fields to topics that are fun, to talk about like the Lean In Movement or even shows like Odd Mom Out). Reinforce your company’s education benefits and encourage employees to take advantage: an employee who decides to go back to school and picks up a new skill is always an asset to your agency and your clients. Finally, an awards program — like recognition at a monthly staff meeting — can go a long way in underscoring the company’s commitment to individuals who are delivering their best, and truly boosts morale.
Encourage employees to take advantage of vacation, summer flex time — assuming your company allows it — and telecommuting benefits, making it clear that no employee will be penalized for taking the time they need and earned to handle personal matters and spend time with their families. If women — and men — realize that company leaders not only support, but respect their personal lives, they’ll be that much more engaged on work matters and less likely to be struggling to balance the two.
Pump up existing or create new mentorship programs, pairing senior employees with junior staffers. Incentivize mentors and mentees to have regular meetings — perhaps offering gift cards for coffee dates — to discuss their perceptions of each other’s roles and responsibilities, including perceived challenges. Offer the mentee the opportunity to shadow the mentor for a “day-in-the-life” experience so the junior employee understands and incorporates the leadership skills their ‘shadow’ brings to the table. The gist is that women need to feel confident in their abilities and feel empowered to express their concerns as well as their goals.
Most importantly, it’s critical that we create paths to help women advance in the industry regardless of her family situation and ensure qualified women have an equal chance at leadership opportunities.
Regardless of the tactics you use to support your female employees, every step we take in that direction reinforces the strength of our workforce and ensures agencies’ success. By championing all employees, we are ultimately championing the success of our clients, and we can all agree that’s something worth striving for.
GCI Health forged a partnership with Hearst women’s title Redbook and online health information source HealthyWomen.org. The HealthiHER Project is an attempt to better understand the health habits of women 30-60 years of age. As a first step in the project, there will be a survey of women in that demographic, addressing their healthcare decisions and needs. The goal of the research is to give these women the information and inspiration they need to make healthier choices. “We’re excited to be working with Redbook and HealthyWomen to uncover some key insights that will help us better communicate with this important population,” said GCI Health CEO Wendy Lund.