Archive for March, 2011

March 1, 2011

Girls Rule, Boys Drool: What Makes Women More Prone to PR Than Men?

Sitting in a classroom of Allen Hall – the beloved building that houses journalists and PR professionals in training on the University of Oregon campus – I realized that all but one of my public relations professors are women and four of my sixteen classmates are men. Why so imbalanced? Are men unwelcome in the PR world?

Apparently, the 75-percent-female majority in UO public relations classrooms is an example of women dominating the industry. According to Dr. Brenda J. Wrigley, associate professor and public relations department chair at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, 85 percent of public relations practitioners are women. Similarly, out of the 21,000 public relations and communications professionals in Public Relations Society of America and its affiliated student branch (PRSSA), 73 percent are women.

Women in professional industries fight head-to-head with men for management positions and equal pay. Photo from awesomedc.com

Despite this predominantly female influence, 80 percent of top management in the industry are men, and women still tend to earn less than men. Wrigley notes that when a profession becomes feminized, salaries tend to decrease along with a diminished status of the profession; she includes nursing as another example of this phenomenon. Due to recent changes in the economy, however, the wage gap is the smallest it’s ever been. The gap is closing because men are losing jobs in industries like manufacturing and construction and taking relatively low-paying jobs, while women maintain their positions in government and health care and also move into high-paying professional jobs  such as accountants, lawyers and physicians.

For me and my twentysomethings female friends, recent news shows that the wage gap is even smaller. In 2009,  for full-time wage and salary workers, the weekly earnings of women ages 20-24 were 92.9 percent that of men’s in the same age group, and the earnings of the 25-34 age group differed by 88.7 percent. The report attributes the shrinking gap to increasing numbers of women with college diplomas and less tolerance of pay discrimination than previous generations.

“Why do you think 70 percent of the profession is women?” Mark Ragan, CEO of Lawrence Ragan Communications, asks three leading ladies of the industry. I’ve summarized the characteristics that they believe draw women naturally to PR, and you can also watch their interview below.

  1. Multitasking: Gemme Craven, senior vice president of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, responds that the female species is particularly good at multitasking, and PR requires this skill to switch from task to task.
  2. Educational background: Alayna Francis, vice president of communications at Swiss Re (Americas Division) agrees that multitasking is an important element, but educational background also plays a role in shaping PR as a female-dominated industry. She explains that generally women are still encouraged to be in the softer sciences like English, social studies and history, as opposed to math and science, and this reverberates to career choices that require similar mindsets.
  3. Detail-oriented and organized: Silvia Davi, vice president of corporate communications for NASDAQ, adds that studies suggest women tend to be more detail-oriented or organized by nature. Given the fast pace of a PR professional’s time, the ability to plan ahead strategically, multitask and not forget details are important factors for success in the PR field.


I want to ensure my male readers that these statistics and opinions do not imply that men cannot be successful in the PR industry. Note the title of the post is “What makes women more prone to PR than men” not better at it. Plus, the “natural” traits that supposedly make women adept PR practitioners can neither be generalized for all womankind nor can they be amiss in all men. The young gentlemen in my public relations courses at UO are intelligent, well-spoken and organized. Take James Watkins, for example, whose blog is actually titled “Prone to PR.” (To give credit where it is well-deserved, thank you, James, for inspiring the title of this post!)

I welcome any additional opinions and reactions – from both women and men – about gender in the PR industry.

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