Look around you at PR and comms teams. There's a lot of women isn't there? So why do so many leave and why do so many not become managers?
by Liz Bridgen
I had a lovely surprise the other week. I talked about the gender gap in comms at the student-led PR The Future: We are the Future conference at Birmingham City University and no-one accused me of being sexist for not taking about men’s problems (yup, that's happened), and no-one Tweeted that I should get back in the kitchen (that's also happened). In fact, the response was overwhelmingly positive with delegates very willing to share and discuss their experiences. And from this, another issue arose (but more on that in a minute).
I'm a PR practitioner turned academic and I've been exploring why women leave PR.
While two thirds of PR practitioners are women, only a third make it to management. There have been numerous industry attempts to explain the reason for women’s under-representation in senior PR or comms roles but, oddly, no-one ever seems to talk to the women who leave. And this is something that I'm trying to put right by interviewing women who have given up their PR careers to try and find out why.
And what have I found? The main reason is NOT because they want to spend time at home with their families but because …
PR is boring.
At first, it seemed like there was an obvious reason why women found PR so dull. Many were working fairly fixed hours due to childcare commitments and were not given the 'exciting' work since they might have to leave at 5:00pm to do the childcare run and no-one though they wanted a role that might eat into that time. Or they weren't part of the 'water cooler' (or increasingly, Twitter) conversations where interesting work is discussed and divvied out (they've got their head down in a corner, trying to get their work done).
Now that all holds true … but here comes the surprise I mentioned earlier. It's not just women with kids who are finding PR work dull. It's men. And women without kids. And in particular those working in agencies (although the public sector isn’t immune).
There are lots of reasons for this. The repetitive nature of the work (forever talking to the same journalists or writing the same sort of social media content). The unwillingness of internal or external clients to try something new. The constant reporting to management. And while it’s not the same in every workplace, there IS a problem.
I’m now considering a second stage of my research project that explores some of these issues. But first, I need to finish my research project on why women leave PR.
So if you are a woman who has left PR, or know someone who has – for whatever reason – would you be able to get in touch so that I can arrange an interview? All responses are anonymised so you can speak freely … and while the project won’t change society, it is at least getting some interesting issues out there and discussed in public.
I can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Liz Bridgen is principal lecturer at Sheffield Halllam University.
Picture credit: SMU Central University Library