Driverless cars? TICK. Virtual Reality? TICK. Artificial Intelligence? TICK. Equality in the workplace? Ummm...
The latest PR Census showed that almost two thirds (64%) of the UK PR industry is female. From AE to AD level, women outnumber men 3:1. Yet incredibly, exactly the same number (64%) of board directors and partners are male. Between the middle and senior management levels in agencies at least, we are losing many women from the (employed) PR workforce. Why?
This is one of the biggest issues in business today – and it is not confined just to PR. PwC research published in March 2016 showed that closing the gender pay gap and getting more women into senior positions could boost the UK economy by £170bn.
Canvassing opinion on social media, I also received comments from a former national newspaper section editor, and a former senior market researcher. Reviewing the comments and based on my own experience talking to thousands of women and men over the 10 years we’ve built our network, I believe it can be distilled down to two key issues:
Clash of the Titans – childcare and work
For the majority of couples it quickly becomes evident that one parent needs to be the primary carer and household ‘manager’. With the 2016 PR Census reporting an average gender pay gap of £9,111 in favour of men, it is all very well to say that this doesn’t have to be the mother! Kids are expensive, not least the childcare required for “work to work”. Also, for those that do return to work, the system is often set against them. One contact told me that she would regularly be labelled as not committed for putting family first and leaving ‘early’, while her male counterparts were applauded as ‘great dads’ for taking time off for Sports Day or the Christmas play!
Of course, many agencies and employers do try hard to make it work by offering part-time/flexible working and more. Indeed 28% of respondents to the Census say they are working ‘flexi-time’. However the reality of our client service roles, combined with the demands of a large team and a board to answer to, can make the reality of this an impossible task for women.
At some point business and family responsibilities will clash so hard that something has to give. It can’t be the children, leaving many women with no viable choice other than to resign from their senior role. They may then review their options for part-time, genuinely flexible employment elsewhere (a rarity) or they may go freelance to have control over work and life.
I wish more women in PR were cognisant of this before they have children, and took time to consider their options BEFORE they go back to work. I should say I have always worked and I’m an advocate for women being able to work in whatever capacity they choose – and there are many fantastic senior women in PR who have achieved their goals - but not at any price.
We don’t smash hard enough at that glass ceiling (but maybe we don’t want to…)
This is another factor continually cited in reports about women on boards in general, as well as anecdotally in discussions I’ve had with men and women. It seems to be generally accepted that while women care as much about their career progression as men, they tend to push for it less. They are less likely to make direct requests for pay increases and promotions, hoping to achieve these by demonstrating their value through great work instead. Men tend to be more comfortable stating their worth and demanding recognition, which I believe contributes to the gender pay gap and the presence of more men on boards - even in female-dominated sectors like ours.
Possibly these two issues are linked, in that (some) women may prefer to stop just below the glass ceiling as they worry that once they have a family they can’t take on the added responsibilities that come with a top managerial position.
The pattern we see in PR of women being underrepresented at senior level is mirrored across industries. There are ingrained societal and cultural issues at play, which need addressing before we get anywhere near to true equality.
I’d love to see the heads of our industry lead the way by implementing pay grades and eliminating disparity between sexes. That would at least ensure that where women wish to return to work, it is financially worth their while to do it.
This week I spoke with Francis Ingham, director-general of the PRCA, who I know holds strong opinions about these issues. This is what he has to say:
“I agree 100% with Nicky's call for equality of pay. This summer, the PRCA will put our money where our megaphone is. We will publish our own pay gap. And in doing so, we will say to the industry - it's time to join the modern world. Do the same. Address this issue. Start paying men and women equally.”
So – who’s up for the challenge?
Written by Nicky Imrie, co-founder of The PR Network www.theprnetwork.co.uk
If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our twice weekly event and subscriber alerts.
Currently, every new subscriber will receive three of our favourite reports about the public relations sector.