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  • Writer's pictureJames Noonan

Exposing the gender discrepancies in the public relations industry

With Women’s History Month 2021 having just wrapped up, this is a time to celebrate the progress that has been made but also reflect on what more can be done; the PR industry is no exception to this.

PR is one of the few fields within the U.S. that is dominated by women, and globally women make up about two-thirds of PR professionals. While this may be taken as a win for some, leadership positions are still heavily dominated by men; only 30 percent of managerial roles and 20 percent of CEO positions are filled by women within the industry.

Anje Collins, co-founder of Women in PR and a PR professional for over 35 years, attributed this to the mentorship and hand selection of male leaders by their male predecessors. Women in PR was launched in 2011 to enhance the knowledge of PR practitioners and to empower women in the field. The organization is now 13,000 women strong, with members from Los Angeles all the way to Dubai. Collins emphasized the importance of networking, stating that, “your network, is your net worth.”

When Collins was asked if the male hold on leadership positions would change soon, she was not optimistic, and stated that “there will never be full women leadership.” Women in PR strives to bring women together and put collaboration over competition.

The sense of a “boys club” within leadership and the field is not uncommon. The Institute for PR disclosed in a report that women felt excluded and encountered stereotypes in the workplace, while “almost no male respondents” reported being personally harassed. In that same report, a majority of men and women acknowledged that there was an industry pay gap.

Dr. Hongmei Shen, a PR professor at San Diego State University and an active member in the PR community, expressed similar concerns about the lack of female leadership and addressed that the “Velvet Ghetto” (the pay gap between men and women in PR) is still prominent even after 35 years. Dr. Shen shared that the pay gap is an issue that often is neglected due to stereotypes that women don’t work as much, that they take time off for family, that they pass up management opportunities, or that they don’t negotiate as well as men; this argument has been proven false.

In 2012, while on the Public Relations Society of America committee on Work, Life, and Gender, Dr. Shen, along with two colleagues, Dr. Dozier and Dr. Sha, looked at potential inhibitors to women’s salaries such as years of professional experience, manager role enactment, participation in management decision-making, income-suppressing career interruptions, and career specialization. Even after accounting for these impacts, the income gender income gap did not close.

The 2012 report found that there was still roughly an $8,000 pay gap between men and women in the PR industry. A more recent 2020 article by Agility PR Solutions shows some progress, with the gap closing to $6,000 a year.

The statistics show that the PR industry is making progress; however, as Collins and Dr. Shen both shared, there is room to grow regarding equal pay and representation in the C-Suite for women.

By James Noonan

James Noonan was born and raised in “sunny” San Diego. His focus on supporting communities and their people stems from his background as a registrar and board member for the Tierrasanta region of the American Youth Soccer Organization. Noonan received two associate degrees during his time at San Diego Miramar Community College and is attending San Diego State University to receive his bachelor's degree in Public Relations. Noonan sees himself in 10 years working as a community organizer to help raise the voices of others and spread awareness of social issues.

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