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