Tackling the glass ceiling in PR
Ten years on since the passing of the revised Equality Act of 2010, gender disparity in the workplace is still an unfortunate reality. This effect is very evident in PR, an industry that despite being heavily populated by women – two-thirds (64%) of the overall workforce is female – is still dominated at board level by men.
In a sector that prides itself on its progressivism, this is a troubling indictment: proof of the existence of an outdated glass ceiling that for too long has limited the potential of women both past and present.
This is not the case at Milk & Honey. Framed within a context of respect and integrity, equality and diversity are at the heart of what we do. Our board is made up entirely of women, not because of quotas, but because these are the individuals who best demonstrate our values and the required skills. Our team is almost two-thirds female (65%) and our approach is to hire people who bring diversity to the team, in terms of their knowledge, attitude, culture and experience.
That we are atypical calls into question the rest of the industry, although we want to do even more. As a flagship advocate of diversity, we believe it is our responsibility to continue to push against the dictates that for years have hindered the pursuit of equality in PR.
Hence the PRCA’s recent ‘Finding and addressing the glass ceiling in PR’ event, which I was honoured to host. The occasion was an attempt to challenge the industry’s inherent imbalances, specifically regarding their effect on women.
The event centred around the collective acumen of an informed set of panellists: including Maria Darby–Walker, non-executive director; Ben Schofield, communications director at Tower Hamlets Homes; Crystal Cansdale, global PR manager at The Inner Circle; Roudie Shafie, director at OVID health; and Bibi Hilton, president of Women in PR. With such a passionate and progressive group, unsurprisingly the evening gave rise to lively debate.
I’ve summarised some of the key discussion points below:
It’s not just about the pay gap
In 2018 the PRCA estimated that the gender pay gap was 21%. Concerning, but unsurprising. Sadly pay is not the only form of discrimination women are facing in the PR industry though.
The idea that women must adopt male characteristics to prosper – to gain admittance into the industry’s perceived masculine upper echelons – was prevalent throughout. The panellists recalled how they were encouraged to emulate male behaviours as they became more senior, in turn, and paradoxically, making them less liked.
Examples were given of women forced to earn the right to enter a ‘boys’ club,’ of women hardened to having to educate their female juniors in male behaviours. Success, all agreed, was often earned by foregoing one’s own gender characteristics.
In such a female–orientated environment, to promote such a sacrifice as synonymous with industry success is senseless. Gender-specific attributes should have no say in determining a person’s career trajectory, with competence and attitude the only measurements that should afford success. The fact this isn’t the case is a sad reflection of the state of the industry.
To adapt or not to adapt
The question, then, is how to combat such a reality. The panellists were of two schools of thought, with some advocating a strategy of adaption, and some favouring resistance.
Some proposed that to create a level playing field women should speak up. The example was made that even at the start of their careers, men were being paid significantly more than women. Women need to be outspoken from the off, but at the same time bring their own qualities to the table. Women, it was opined, should also be smart about how they present their industries and use logic and results to demonstrate worth, as opposed to resorting to a stance of ‘we’re female and that’s how it is.’ It doesn’t need to be this way.
However, such statements were not total, with some believing women should fight their corner. Proactive resistance was encouraged, with many believing a considered opposition to discriminatory behaviours is essential for progress. Women should stand out, negotiate harder and root out inequality wherever possible.
However, the burden of such a stance should not be placed solely on the shoulders of women, but should be shared between both genders.
A call to arms was issued, with the panellists imploring others to stand up for those who were struggling to make headway on their own. Collective responsibility should be taken, for without it progress is unattainable.
One point the group were all agreed upon was the idea of greater flexibility, and that a lack of tolerance for those with alternative schedules was a sign of industry-wide inequality.
Flexible working hours – whether needed for caring for children or family members, or simply personal preference – are too often seen as lazy or laissez-faire, it was said, with women attempting to break from the nine-to-five routine likely to be placed at a disadvantage by doing so.
Here at Milk & Honey we have. We operate a flexible system, one in which all team members are given the opportunity to adapt their own working hours. We offer unlimited holiday, have a wide variety of schedules and are always open to requests. This is not, however, a universal approach.
Efforts must be made to keep parental talent, to offer them a sustainable reason to stay. Greater flexibility is such a reason and should therefore be considered a matter of great importance.
How to move forward
The average woman in PR earns £42,588, whilst the average man earns £53,952. Women with children are being forced out en masse, leaving only 34% of women left with children, compared to 49% of men. In agencies, there’s a 10% disparity between men and women in positions of seniority.
Coupled with the above, these are the unfortunate statistics that have for too long defined the PR industry. Events such as these, coupled with progressive individuals and agencies, go some way to addressing and tackling inequality, although it is still not enough.
What is required is a rejection of gender-inequality, with everyone – from senior men to junior women – working against the dictates that have unfairly hindered women for too long. Agreement on this point was unanimous across all the panellists, as it should be in all environments. Action, it was agreed, was required now.