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Why are there so few women on the board in the female-dominant PR industry?

21 Jun 2016 by Sarah Leembruggen.

Why is there such a discrepancy in the gender ratio at board level?

There are a number of unique challenges women face when climbing corporate ladders compared to their male counterparts.

Studies show that they enter the workforce with the wind in their sails, feeling highly qualified after success at the university level.  However, among those employees with more than two years experience, 34% of men are still aiming for the top, while only 16% of women are. So why aren’t more women aiming high? And why are they falling out of the industry?

One reason is that women who have children find adhering to standard office hours incompatible with child care provision: for most working mothers, arriving at 9 and leaving at 6 is impossible if you have any kind of a commute.  Flexible working simply isn’t being flexible enough in our client service industry.

But the huge disparity in the gender ratio at board level can’t simply be attributed to a tricky return from maternity leave.  Women do tend to hide their achievements, or shrink from promoting their skills.  They don’t want to seem big-headed, pushy or arrogant so they assume people will notice their achievements without them being pointed out.  While this approach may work fine as you pursue the path to Associate Director, when you suddenly have to articulate and prove your worth to a male-dominated board, these female tendencies will backfire. 

So how can women break through the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ and reach those top jobs in PR?

First of all, eliminate stereotypes

Studies show that when a man speaks up, he is considered powerful but women are more likely to face criticism for speaking more than others.

Women tend to be nose-to-the-grindstone and men tend to do a better job of promoting themselves.  Women are also more likely to self-select out of top management roles.  There needs to be more encouragement for them to succeed, and have that self-confidence that will take them to the top. 

So, to the ladies in PR – speak up, promote yourself and be proud!  You are your best advocate so don’t be afraid to share your successes with your supervisors.

Understand the value of a diverse leadership

PR specialists need to listen and empathise with their clients, work well in teams and be fierce advocates – skills that are a natural fit for many women.  They are skills that also make great managers and strong leaders.  Having women in leadership roles is good for business.  Companies with a higher representation of women in senior management teams are shown to be more successful.  In short, having more women in the boardroom makes for a better bottom line.

Play to the strengths of each gender

Women’s leadership style is different.  Women have a tendency to focus on building effective relationships as leaders. Meanwhile, men tend put their energy into demonstrating results of their work. Women are good at winning people over, getting consensus, and meeting deadlines.  These are all fantastic attributes to bring to a board.

Nurture qualities fit for the boardroom

Seeking greater diversity on the board is a savvy move.  Boards composed of both men and women with a good mix of age, experience and backgrounds tend to foster better debate and decision making.  For women with their eyes on a place on the board, there are certain qualities that they can cultivate to bring them closer to that coveted seat.

- Reflect – women are quick thinkers who can come up with fast solutions but there is always time for reflection (it doesn’t have to be long-winded!)
- Be steadfast – stand by your opinions, and be confident in expressing them
- Be yourself – you are where you are today because of your skills, experience and the unique qualities that define who you are, so don’t lose sight of them
- Be patient  – women tend to be action-orientated; there are times when doing nothing is the best solution
- Be analytical – get good at looking at numbers and stats; use solid evidence and remove emotion when you make important decisions
- Be a great negotiator- have confidence in your abilities and poush yourself forward and promote your wins

So, women of the PR world, start practising now.  Stop thinking that you might come across as a show off or an impostor and start shouting about your achievements. 

If someone calls you bossy – then it’s working. 

For full results of our Salary Survey, click here

Salary Survey 2017