Women comprise 61% of the public relations workforce. Yet, according to a recent report, women comprise only about 20% of top leadership positions in PR.
For many of us it is a surprising finding. We just assumed as we progressed in our careers many women would crack the glass ceiling and achieve CEO positions.
So what can be done?
According to “Minding the Gap: Women’s Leadership in Public Relations” by the Institute for Public Relations and KPMG, there are many steps individuals and companies can take.
Two important steps are sponsoring and mentoring. How many of us have benefitted from the formal or informal mentorship and advice of a senior colleague? In my first job I knew I had a lot to learn. Luckily, my boss was patient and kind. She taught me the ropes and helped me when I made a mistake. Her support made the difference in those early years and enabled me to learn my craft and build my confidence. That is one of the reasons I am a mentor today. In the process of guiding a young pro I am also enriched by his or her enthusiasm and desire to make a difference.
There many opportunities for mentoring. Professional associations such as the NY Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America offer mentoring programs (for men and women) as well as professional development workshops and networking events to meet and learn from more experienced colleagues.
Another important step is the commitment of the CEO. On pay equity for women for example, many leading Fortune 500 companies such as Starbucks and Salesforce made a commitment to pay equity and achieved it. According to Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff, “Every CEO needs to look at if they’re paying men and women the same.” Pay equity (which still exists in our professional) is critical of course. But it is not the same as reaching the C suite. Just as their Fortune 500 peers did, a CEO in PR who is truly committed to raising women to top levels can lead the charge and implement HR and other policies to accomplish it.
Yes barriers still exist. Women still confront sexism, unconscious bias and many other challenges in PR and other industries.
But on International Women’s Day every woman who wants to can make a difference. Young women can reach out to us and those of us in more senior positions can make a concerted effort to help a young colleague (formally or informally) gain the skills and savvy she needs to become a CEO.
About the Author: Leslie Gottlieb, an expert in integrated strategic marketing and communications, is President of the NY Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.