How PR employers can help women in their organisations

Like any other employers, PR agencies have a duty of care towards their employees. Generations of women in the workplace have been treated differently to men due to their gender. Women have a number of inevitable roles and responsibilities outside the workplace. We are professionals and at the same time we are mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers. We are judged more harshly on our appearance – by ourselves may I add, but that’s another discussion. For some, the moment we start a family we are forced to put the brakes on our career or even take a different path. Of course our male counterparts do not have it easy, however the choices they face are more straightforward.

In PR, the challenge is even greater. In a world where an image says a thousand words, it is even more vital to be at the cutting edge. Consequently there is even more pressure on women to abide by our tacit social codes – in terms of how we appear and how we communicate.

In fact, PR employers are often trendsetters and as such have a responsibility that spans wider than their own employees. Below I share my recommendations on what I believe you should be doing to help women in your organisations.

Lead through authenticity: In my HR practice, I coach and encourage businesses as well as leaders to lead through authentic practices, to be true to their own corporate and social values. This translates into a celebration of our differences rather than stifling teams through division and secrecy.

Understand that there is no fixed definition for discrimination and harassment: What we view as harassment or discrimination is almost as unique as our DNA. Our beliefs are formed by our own individual life experiences. One person may view receiving a bunch of flowers as inappropriate whereas someone else may treat it as a gesture of thankfulness and goodwill. Likewise, comments about how short a skirt should be for a meeting may be perceived as acceptable by one person but have a crippling effect on another.

Therefore, should we even attempt to define what we mean by discrimination or harassment?

Create a statement of equal opportunities: I encourage PR employers to consider a statement of equal opportunities instead. It sets the standard and outlines the rules of accepted behaviour within your organisation rather than having a policy that attempts to define the undefinable and then dictates what people shouldn’t be doing.

Be open about harassment and discrimination: Address it head on. Don’t try to sweep it under the carpet. Provide a safe and non-judgemental channel for employees to use should they need to report incidences. Empower them to speak up. Otherwise the alternative is that you will be kept in the dark whilst your employees share the negative experience on social media.

Likewise make it clear to potential perpetrators the implications of their actions. Moreover, impose a zero tolerance to any infringement.

Written by Julie Provino/international HR leader, founder of VeryHR and the author of How to Get What You Want in 7 Weeks.

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