International Women’s Day: What is the PR industry like and how can women break through the glass ceiling?

March 8th has always had a special place in my heart. It goes back to those days when I wasn’t yet aware of a word ‘feminist’ and the meaning behind it. Back home in Lithuania, boys used to bring tulips to their mums, sisters, female classmates and teachers. We were excited about the special attention we were getting, and that the whole day was dedicated to us girls. However, it was never all about flowers and text messages from male relatives and friends. As you grow older and step into adulthood, you really start to understand why the world should come together on International Women’s Day.  With the rise of movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp and others, activists are pushing for (and achieving!) equality, addressing the gender pay gap and empowering women to take more control of their lives. International Women’s Day has become an important date in a lot of calendars, and this year the official theme for International Women’s Day is #EachForEqual. “An equal world is an enabled world. How will you help forge a gender equal world? Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.”International Women’s Day Earlier this week, I had a chance to attend an event organised by PRCA. The panel of industry professionals. The panel included non-executive director and business coach Maria Darby-Walker, communication director Ben Schofield, global PR manager Crystal Cansdale, director at OVID Health Roudie Shafie, and president of women in PR Bibi Hilton. The panel’s discussion was addressing the glass ceiling in PR. It is no secret that the industry is indeed female-dominated with 67% of practitioners being women. However, it reverses as seniority increases, with 60% of board level executives being male. The question is: why are female PR professionals struggling to make it to some of the top positions? There are a lot of factors that come into place: the gender pay gap, endless negotiations for flexible working, particularly post-parenthood, higher expectations, lack of support from fellow women leaders and, even, recruitment processes. Women are still often expected to be ‘likeable people’. Personalities traits which are often praised in men such as confidence, passion, commitment and others, are not accepted when it comes to female professionals. In most cases, if you know what you want, stand up for yourself and for what you believe is right, you are less likely to be admired and more often perceived as ‘unlikeable’.  But besides stopping women from achieving higher positions in PR boards, the above issues also make them leave their full-time jobs in the industry and either start freelance or change their career path completely. A study by IPSE shows that the number of women turning to self-employment has risen by 57% since 2008 - double more than men in the same period. The same report notes the increase in the number of female freelancers (the highly skilled solo self-employed) was even sharper: a 63% rise since 2008. With more flexibility, independance and less day-to-day pressure from male colleagues, self-employment and freelancing seem to be the rescue from sometimes demanding and stressful careers in the PR industry. However, I would like to stay positive and look at the brighter side of things. Just by having these conversations, the workforce is, although slowly, but steadily moving towards the right direction. Statistically, the industry gender pay gap has gone down from 21% in 2018 to 13.6% last year. While the figure is still high, it suggests that changes are on the horizon. And in my company CommsCo I’m happy to say that two of the three senior leaders are women. By addressing these issues and discussing them openly, we’re overcoming barriers and stereotypes. But, we need all parties to get involved.  “We won’t fix the gender gap issue by only talking to women” - Bibi Hilton, President of Women in PR When men and women work together, the results can be extremely beneficial. An open, genuine discussion between both genders can contribute towards putting the puzzle together, changing perceptions and destroying stereotypes. But while we’re all collectively working towards one way goal of equal world, here is some advice from PRCA’s event panelists on how women can improve their conditions within the industry:
  • Mentorship
A lot of time women in the industry bump into the glass ceiling, experience imposter syndrome and are sometimes not confident enough to take further steps in their career. Having a mentor can help overcome their own self-limiting beliefs and mindsets, and inspire them to pursue progression within their careers and motivate them to overcome obstacles until the industry smashes them itself.
  • Communication
Spoken and body language influence many aspects in our careers. Being confident in both verbal and non-verbal communications can contribute towards making a good first impression, building trust and establishing important relationships. If the industry can’t provide you with what you need, don’t be afraid to ask for it.
  • Work out what your strengths are
A lot of times people, no matter in what industry, tend to focus on the areas they need to develop rather than their strengths. By establishing your strongest points you are more likely to smash any obstacles that come your way and break through the glass ceiling. At least until one no longer exists.
  • Don’t stop learning
The world is a changing place and therefore we must continually look for ways to improve and grow. Some of the biggest and well-known organisations invest in their employees. To continue self-growth and reach for new heights in your career, you should never settle and never stop learning.  Changing the industry and the perceptions of women in PR is not an individual task. And while the above points explore how female professionals can help break through the glass ceiling individually, the goal is for everyone, no matter their gender and seniority in the industry, to work towards one main goal: equality. Figures are improving and there is already a shift in attitudes. I would like to believe that with each International Women’s Day, we will have less issues to discuss and more equality accomplishments to celebrate.