Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Men are from Mars and Women are from Public Relations

In the United States it is estimated that 65% of practitioners are women, while Public Relations Society of America point to 90% female membership. UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations figures estimates 62% of practitioners are female. Meanwhile in France it is estimated that 80% of all PR practitioners are women. An immediate thought which comes to the mind is why public relations as a profession is so popular amongst women?

Why are there more women in PR?

According to Women in PR there are seven main reasons why there are so many women in the industry:
1.They are better, or natural, communicators (33%)
2.They multitask and organise better than men (23%)
3.PR is a soft career suited to women – as are teaching, human resources etc. (18%)
4.The have better and more sensitive “people skills” (18%)
5.They are better able to pay attention to detail and to look at things from different perspectives (15%)
6.They are better suited to a variety of practical administrative tasks (10%)
7.Women have greater imagination, intuition, and are sensitive to nuances (8%)

Although these could be the reasons why there are so many women in PR but I think the ability to communicate, multitask, organise, sensitivity, attention to detail and imagination etc. are some generic qualities which are required in other professions as well. For example, say medicine, law, education etc. then what makes public relations such a special choice for women?

The Popular culture

Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy point out ‘popular culture’ as a factor for the growing influx of women in the industry. The portrayal of public relations on the big and small screen as a sexy, fast moving, well-paid and exciting job that is welcoming to women could be one of the reason why women are attracted towards this profession. This could possibly be true because from my own personal experience, I opted for Public Relations because I found it interesting. I had an impression in my mind that as a public relations professional, I would get an opportunity to influence senior management decisions and maintain good relationships with people. To be honest, that is all I knew about PR before I started working in a consultancy. In fact, I think most students (female) like me do not have a clear understanding of public relations until they join the industry. These stereotype perceptions of public relations being glamorous, well-paid, exciting and powerful etc. could be a strong force to influence women to join this industry.

Are women running Public Relations?

There could be numerous reasons for women to join the PR industry but if you scratch the surface, beneath lies the truth, men still seem to hold more senior positions and in general, earn more than women in the industry. According to Fawcett Society 2009, around 1 in 20 company directors are women and women earn 17-35% less than men. Men with five or more years experience in PR still, on average, earn more than their female counterparts ($124,000 median salary for men versus $85,000 for women according to a 2007 survey).

Why women don’t reach the top?

So, what could be the possible reasons behind it? We had an interesting debate in the class about the issue and my classmates raised some really interesting points. People speaking for the motion (women will always work in PR but will never run it) said that PR is a fast and dynamic profession which requires 100 percent commitment and flexibility, since women need to maintain a balance between their personal and professional lives; they often find it difficult to continue working in the profession. Women still tend to be the key child carers and take career breaks or even give up their career as they start to have children. As a result, they either leave the profession or are not able to make constant progress.

I think all the above mentioned reasons are pretty realistic and practical especially for working mothers. They always find themselves in a situation where they need to prioritise since working in a consultancy means long hours, late nights, more pressure and lot of hard work. At the same time, they have responsibilities towards their children which if remain unfulfilled leads to frustration and disappointment. Some of the main reasons given for the high churn rate in PR, particularly, at the middle level, are to do with long hours, relatively low pay, and lack of job satisfaction.

Shubra Sinha, Account Manager, Accord Public Relations says, “I feel the main reason which stops women from sticking to the high management levels (this is not restricted to PR only) is mainly due to the pressures and demands that they get along. Women undoubtedly have two tasks in hand - family and profession – and obviously demands from both the ends grow as the responsibilities increase. There are women who manage to compromise on some aspects and reach higher levels in the corporate world; however this percentage would be low. Most would still prefer to maintain a balance and sacrifice on the professional front, to be able to give enough time to family.”

Why men earn more?

Another interesting reason which is highlighted in the academics in that men are far better represented in the higher earnings sectors, such as lobbying and financial PR. Most women tend to work either in consumer or lifestyle PR which are traditionally less remunerative. According to a survey of female PRs by Women in PR, 70% of respondents worked in consumer and lifestyle PR.

Impact on Public Relations

‘Because PR is mostly female, the negative impacts associated with being female also impacts negatively on PR.’ Larrisa Grunig (2001). It can be debated if the feminization of PR has a positive or negative impact on the industry. Morris and Goldsworthy are of the opinion that the current evidence suggest that it doesn’t have an impact at all. The industry by almost any measure continues to grow and outperform the wider economy. PR courses in universities and colleges are often oversubscribed and show no signs of decreasing in number. I personally think, gender does not play a role in creating an impact on the PR industry, reason being, there are other professions like teaching, human resources, nursing etc. which are primarily women dominated and this fact doesn’t seem to play any role in building the reputation of that profession. What does impact is the nature and execution of profession and not which gender is dominating it. For example, politics is mainly dominated by men and generally politicians are not perceived as trust worthy, so can we say if politics would have been run or dominated by women, the profession would have enjoyed much more credibility and trust?

References: PR A Persuasive Industry? Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy, 2008, Chapter: Girls, gurus, gays and diversity


  1. Hi Divya:
    Actually, the 90% female rate quoted was for PRSA's student society (PRSSA), not the parent association.

    Of the 800 students who answered the demographics survey for PRSSA in 2009, 86% were female.

    In the last PRSA membership survey (2008) of the 750 members surveyed, 71% were female.

    The point is, that 65% female is probably closer to the truth than any of the other numbers quoted, but at least amongst those involved in our organization, it is a growing segment.

    -Randi Mason, MLS
    PRSA Content Manager

  2. Hi Randi,

    Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention. I think all these figures and facts reinstate that public relations as a profession is quite popular amongst women and somehow, there are more women working in this sector than men.

    Thanks once again for your comment.