Diversity in public relations could use a fresh perspective — from men

Some will see this post as politically incorrect. But they’ll get over it.

male.pngFor 20 years now the public relations profession has seen a radical change in the ratio of men-to-women working in the field. For 20 years we’ve studied the phenomenon, and for 20 years we’ve talked about its impact on the business.

I’m wondering if it’s not time to do something about it.female.png

Today, some 65% of the PR practitioners are women, but wait ’til you see the next generation. The latest figures peg PRSSA membership at 90% female. Those numbers echo our enrollment here at Kent State, and it’s been that way for nearly a decade. Mind you, not everyone who enters this field studies public relations in college, but the gender trend is clear no matter what your degree.

Researchers have investigated this gender shift since the middle 80s, and while their studies don’t tell us why men have abandoned the profession, they do offer some hints. Elizabeth Toth, U. of Md., made some interesting observations a few years back in a interview with SU Magazine.

First, she said, “…the men left. They had many more fields to choose from and public relations was not as lucrative, so they went where the money was.”

As the men moved away, women began to find public relations a hospitable place to launch careers — a place that didn’t erect the barriers women find in many other professions, Toth said.

It’s a very flexible field in which women can balance family and marriage. Organizations seem to prefer women in public relations roles because they think they are better communicators, more nurturing and willing to listen and collaborate. I think organizations began to face pressure from affirmative action programs to hire women and train them for management positions, and public relations seemed like a safe place to put women managers. There’s a lot of good news in that, but organizational sociologists say it’s another way of oppressing women. You offer them a little bit and then they won’t want more.

Why does the gender of your communicator matter? Because men and women view the world differently. That has more to do with socialization than DNA, I suspect, but there is no denying that men and women tackle PR challenges from different perspectives. Having both perspectives at the table is essential if we’re to serve our clients and our employers.

Maybe I’m a lone voice in the wilderness, but I see the coming 90-10 gender imbalance is bad for the profession — and bad for both men and women. Its time to implement a PR campaign to lure more young men to the field. And while we’re at at, let’s make a serious effort to attract minority students of both genders. We’ve been pretty lax there, too.

I’m thinking out loud about how I could bring more men into my own program here at Kent State. What about a scholarship or two exclusively for male candidates? Was that a gasp I heard? I know that’s not the most “PC” suggestion, but we have two scholarships in our School of Journalism exclusively for women, two more exclusively for minorities. Since men are soon to be grossly underrepresented in this field, why not offer them incentives, provided we can find someone to fund the awards?

Recruiting visits could work, too. We could easily make contact with our high school influentials to let them know of our interest in recruiting young men who are good writers and creative problem-solvers? We could invite them to campus and introduce them to a career path they might not consider otherwise. We work hard here at Kent State to recruit other underrepresented groups? Why not make a similar effort in the interest of gender equity?

I’m also wondering if our friends in the profession might want to help by offering mentoring and co-op programs. Such programs could help employers deal with their own gender imbalances, since co-op students would be targeted for hiring after graduation. I know profressionals are concerned about the gender issue. They’ve told me so.

Would love to hear your thoughts — even if you think I’m full of it.

11 Responses to Diversity in public relations could use a fresh perspective — from men

  1. […] -Lastly, my former PR professor, Bill Sledzik published a great article on gender equality in PR. You might be surprised by his accurate take. […]

  2. John Bailey blogged about gender imbalance at his own firm earlier this year. And he’s right; when my wife used to work there, young mail execs were in short supply. ‘Twas the same when I worked at Shandwick Detroit (pre-Weber) in the mid-90s, though most of the veeps were men. A few crusty old ones at that…

    Not to be crass, but is PR viewed as a “chick” degree? It didn’t seem so when you took me in (from those cold, dreary days of architecture studio). It did seem odd that I was outnumbered 10-1…so maybe it gets back to recruiting. I don’t think the reverse affirmative action route is your best choice. Of course, if you were to command a predominantly male cadre of former PRKent-ers back to campus one Friday night for beer and branstorming at Ray’s, I’m sure we could arrive at a game plan. You know…I’m just sayin’.

  3. I think the industry is facing a chicken and egg situation related to gender. The fact remains that women are still earning less than male counterparts in the workplace. When you’re talking about an entire profession dominated by women…it’s tough to keep the salaries competitive. So will bringing men back to the profession help boost salaries and make this a more sought after profession – helping women earn more too? Or will the lack of competitive salaries keep men out of the profession altogether?

  4. […] normally see discussion about the dominance of women in PR – and that’s my experience with undergraduate degree […]

  5. Austin says:

    I realize that I’m replying to your post on gender roles in PR four years after you authored it, but it applies directly to me.
    I started my college career in Political Science at Belmont University in Nashville TN. I found that poli-sci was very interesting to me, but I didn’t know what to do with it. Over time I ruled out law, lobbying, nonprofits, etc.
    For various reasons I transferred to Indiana Wesleyan University, and discovered Public Relations. It’s been a match made in heaven. I’m in love with the field, and see a dire need for effective communicators in our society. My focus will be business/organizational. I’m also developing an interest in marketing.
    However, I’m not sure how to feel about the gender gap. Should I be worried? Will I be as marketable being a guy? And will I be able to make any real money?

    Thanks for this post by the way, it’s very interesting.

  6. Bill Sledzik says:

    Our experience here at Kent State tells me that talented young men actually have the upper hand, since they’re a small minority in the candidate pool. That could have something to do with the corporate and agency mix in our region — lots of B2B, which tends to be ruled by”old boys” network — but I don’t think so.

    Employers understand the need for a diverse staff in terms of race, ethnicity and gender. As for making any “real money,” that depends upon your expectations. Talented communicators are in demand, and salaries are competitive. But if you want to get to 6 figures quickly, I’d suggest you go into sales.

    Not sure if you’re from the Nashville area, but the music/entertainment and the travel/tourism niches of PR tend to be among the lowest on the pay scale. I guess the glamor makes up for the lost income!

  7. Austin says:

    That’s good to hear. I’m from Cincinnati, I just went to Nashville for one year and a semester. I would love to work in PR or marketing for a business that I really believed in. One that I’ve looked into is Chick-fil-A in Atlanta.

    I truly believe that many things are more important than earning a high salary. Although, if I could find something I love and earn a lot that would be amazing.

    I’m also wondering about how I should approach my time in college. I know that there is some transition between PR and marketing. I don’t know if I should get a minor in marketing, or if that’s necessary. I’m wondering what I can do to put myself ahead.

  8. Bill Sledzik says:

    Marketing classes are fine, Austin. But I’m inclined to recommend a broader range of business courses that includes management and finance, even accounting. I’d also be looking for ways to build internship experience. Most of our graduates are hired based not on what they know, but on what they’ve already accomplished and documented. Focus on building a portfolio.

  9. Austin says:

    Thank you for your advice, I will definitely try to work business classes into my schedule. I’ll also be working on earning strong internships.

  10. Bill,

    Thanks for sharing, very insightful. I graduated with a degree in PR/minor psychology from Baldwin-Wallace College in December of 2008, and was fortunate to have a juiced up portfolio from three paid internships and agency experience. I am only 24-years old, but have been working since the age of 15 and financed my education (good thing for scholarships and grants!).

    I have been interviewing since, and look forward to beginning a career in PR at a non-traditional, growing startup firm or agency. I’d definitely appreciate any tips you may have for breaking through as a young professional.

    Your posts about the concept of higher degrees doing less as a commodity nowadays are sobering, but I try to remain vigilant and committed to moving forward in spite of the odds. After all, isn’t that the beauty of being young and in the world of PR?

    -Byron

  11. […] Diversity in public relations could use a fresh perspective — from men […]

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