when social media can be a career killer

 Can you name five female public relations agency heads?  That was they questioned posed by PR Week before naming just four women. Thankfully, PR Week didn’t  explain away the shortfall of women in top tier posts with the old cliché of “they leave to have babies”, acknowledging that the reality was far more complex than that. 

by Liz Bridgen

I’m currently researching why women to leave middle-management PR jobs.  Interestingly, one theme that keeps cropping up is that women leave PR because they find the work trivial and unsatisfying.  That’s not to say that all PR jobs are meaningless and dull but for a variety of reasons (which would make another article in itself), the women I interviewed weren’t taking advantage of the challenging and exciting PR jobs out there.


The good thing about teaching and researching PR is that you can ask people lots of questions about what they do and why they do it.  So, for another research project I’m involved with, I surveyed middle-ranking PR staff (male and female) to find out what they did and the impact that social media was having on their roles.  The results were pretty surprising and could go some way to explaining why some women find PR so dull.


Let’s start with the basics. First, when presented with a list of 17 PR tasks (which included everything from blogger liaison to campaign management), women ticked off  more things on the list than men and were still doing the junior tasks as they rose up the ranks (the men, meanwhile, left those basic tasks behind).


Then when it came to using social media at work, women were slightly more likely than men to carry out  the more mechanistic social media roles such as blogger liaison and running Twitter feeds. If men did these jobs they certainly weren’t ‘fessing up to it – claiming that they were busy doing the exciting, creative stuff online.


Interpreting any quantitative data is fraught with dangers so what do these results suggest to you?  One interpretation is that men spend more time doing fewer things, which may well be true.  Another is that men aren’t bogged down in administration and routine work, leaving them more time than women to use social media for networking and the building of a personal brand


This is relevant because my research showed that while women were active online, men do more online - they were more likely to blog, comment,  and do the sort of things that get you noticed.  As a result it’s hardly surprising that more men than women believed they were influential on social media - and this may well be true.

When writing about gender it’s important to point out that we’re not putting all men or all women into one category or another.  But my research suggests that women have less time to build their personal brand online for two reasons - they have less time and secondly, when they are spending time online (and they spend a LOT of time online), their time is spent doing the mechanistic social media work like running a series of corporate Twitter feeds.  This gives them less opportunity to develop their expertise and contacts – and when you’re stuck in the Twitter Ghetto with little opportunity to build your escape plan, it’s hardly surprising that women wave goodbye to their PR career. 


Liz Bridgen is senior PR lecturer at De Montfort University

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