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

  1. Hi, Hannah:

    Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you liked this post. Now that I’ve been working in PR for a year, I can say from experience that it involves more than “going to parties and working with celebrities.” A lot of my work is behind-the-scenes so that clients can have the spotlight. To help them succeed is rewarding for me, and I hope it’s the same for other PR practitioners.

    Besides the three points mentioned above about why women may be more prone to PR than men, I also like Kedetwiler’s comment — “PR relies on the cultivation and maintenance of relationships and understanding human behavior and emotion.” In my experience, I’ve found that women have natural tendencies to build and maintain emotional connections with others, so I’d agree that this could draw us to the PR field.

  2. Great post! I can certainly relate to you on having a PR class with only a handful of boys amongst a large amount of girls. I enjoyed your three suggestions about why women are attracted to PR. It’s refreshing to hear someone make the point that PR is more than going to parties and working with celebrities.

  3. Hi, Lindsey!

    This is a great discussion. I had a couple of comments just from your post but Val and Dave make great points as well.

    I think that I have been somewhat insulated from the “fluffy” PR aspects because I am still enrolled in PR classes. AP style is on my mind, not a lavish PR lifestyle. Maybe that’s because U of O has done a good job at keeping our feet on the ground. However, this trend is absolutely something to be aware of.

    My PR class is currently ALL women. I loved your three suggestions about why women are attracted to PR. However, I felt that those attributes could be well applied to any profession. What about the fact that PR relies on the cultivation and maintenance of relationships and understanding human behavior and emotion?

    Dave’s point about a lack of awareness about what PR really means was an excellent point. However, if the general population suffers from a lack of awareness, wouldn’t equal amounts of men and women not enter the field? I think we can all agree that we need to move away from stereotypes of “the blonde brigade,” “fluff,” and “wining and dining.”

    Finally, I think it’s awesome that the salary gap is shrinking. This fact in and of itself is encouraging, but the reasons you gave for the phenomenon are hardly based on merit alone. It’s great that intolerance for salary gaps has increased, but how about the plain fact that women just deserve to be paid as much as men? There really is a vicious cycle at play, especially as Dave made the point about “feminized” professions being less valued.

    I’m just about to start blogging about PR and this post as well as the comments may have just inspired my first post! prinparcels.wordpress.com

  4. As the founder of Glamourjobs.com, Glamjob.com and Author of the Glamour Job Career Guide… “I want to be in PR” has been high on the the reguest list for my candidates and readers over the years… unfortunately it is often folllowed closely with “because I want to meet famous people and go to lots of parties and lunch at the Ivy” 🙂 As an ex PR myself (not sure if there is such a thing as ex PR… once PR, always a PR), I know all too well how different reality is to the perception of what a (good) PR does…

    Lindsey’s observation that PR tends to be more favoured by females is quite correct… but I have to say, that one of the best PR’s I ever worked with was a male… but he and his business partner were also gay. It was a fantastic combination…:) And I worked with these guys on a very dangerous tourism project in Eastern Europe that turned very nasty and they were fantastic……

    What a lot of wannabe PR’s don’t take into consideration is that PR isn’t just about good times… I agree with Dave….When PR’s really earn their money and show their true credential is when things go wrong…. Crisis Management is the real test… Firstly, writing the Crisis Management Plan and then stepping in when things get tough and making sure that the Executives of the company you are working for know what to say, what not to say and how to prevent a company sinking in a disaster…

    Hope that helps Lindsey.. the message is … lots of people go for PR for the wrong reasons, but they don’t last…. You seem to be amongst the select group of people that are actually serious about the profession… so keep a hold of that realilty and you will do well…..

    • I appreciate your feedback, Val!

      It’s good to hear from experienced PR practitioners about what I should expect as I enter the field. Yes, from what I’ve learned, I have to agree that the true test of PR comes through during the tough times — not at the cocktail party or celeb interview. Times of crises are probably the moments when executives realize PR is a valuable investment for the company!

      While I admit that the thought of handling crises isn’t the most compelling reason for me to pursue PR, I understand that I should be ready for it to be my responsibility at some point in my career. Regardless, crises management involves maintaining relationships and reputations through effective communication, thinking creatively on the spot, allocating resources — everything that draws me to PR! I guess the question that remains is if I’m drawn to it due to nature or nurture!

      Thank you for your thoughtful message and for subscribing to my blog!
      -Lindsey

  5. Thanks for the feedback, Dave!

    You’re right; I hadn’t considered the industry’s “fluffy” history of wine and dine meetings and party-throwing. This history is changing as the industry takes shape, but dinner parties and similar events are components of public relations that are not everyone’s (be it man’s or woman’s) cup of tea.

    Which brings us to the struggle to define public relation. I receive puzzled looks when I say I’m majoring in public relations, and I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into two years ago when I declared the major. As I’ve learned, public relations involves establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and the publics that can affect its success. (Adapted from Cutlip, Center & Broom’s 1994 definition*.)
    Yes, this relationship-building could require hosting a luncheon for volunteers, but it also encompasses not-so-fashionable-and-fluffy tactics like analyzing annual reports for the shareholder letter and managing crisis communication. I think I should put a definition of PR on my blog so that any readers (whether they are PR-savvy or lay persons) know where I’m coming from when I analyze the industry in my posts. Thank you for the inspiration!

    I agree that maybe the nature of the industry doesn’t attract men, as opposed to thinking it is strictly aligned with the nature of women. I’m not an industry expert, but I think men will perceive it differently as the role of a PR is more clearly defined and the “spin” and “fluff” definitions become obsolete.

    I appreciate your perspectives! Thanks again for commenting!
    -Lindsey

    P.S. *If you’re interested in more reading about defining PR, here’s an informative post from Bill Sledzik: http://toughsledding.wordpress.com/2008/07/20/a-sort-of-unified-definition-of-public-relations-without-a-single-mention-of-marketing/

  6. Great post Lindsey and I’d agree that the women that are attracted to public relations now are attracted in majority because of those characteristics.

    You did ignore the fact, however, that the PR industry’s traditional dominance of females rather than males is more from a chauvinistic prespective than anything else. The industry has had a long history of being seen as ‘fluffy’, and attracted younger females who would wine and dine media and clients, and throw amazing parties and network.

    When I did my PR course, we used to comment about the fact that in each year level there was always what we called ‘the blonde brigade’ – people who got into the course not really based on interest in real PR but more on the lure of the lifestyle.

    One other point to note is that the PR industry has struggled for a long time (and still does) with its own definition and its own public definition. Yes we know the basic definition of what PR is but ask any lay person on the street what public relations is and you will get a garbled answer that ranges from being a spin doctor to an event organiser. If you think about this from the perspective of a teenager who is decided on their career path, you could argue that the reluctance of males to choose PR could be down to:
    – a lack of understanding of what PR is.
    – a negative perception of what PR is, or heeding the more widely held public opinion of PR

    So the point here is that maybe it’s not about women being more attracted to PR than men, maybe it’s about the industry not making it attractive enough for men….

    Hope that’s given another couple of perspectives!

    Dave

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