PR Girls: Lacking confidence, NOT competence

Cori Kendrick

About a year ago, I became involved with the Women in Media Mentoring Initiative (WIMMI). The organization focuses on professional development through mentorship for women in advertising, digital and public relations fields.

I have to admit that I was initially skeptical about the need to network with other women. Why exclude half of a population? Doesn’t that mean I’m missing out on half of an industry’s knowledge and wisdom?

Yet the more I explore the issue of gender in public relations and related fields, the more I have grown to understand the importance of empowerment, even in an industry, such as public relations, where females dominate the workforce. Despite the progress that has been made in the past several decades, for this field, continues to battle outdated, ridiculous stereotypes and limitations.

Recently, I joined several of my PAN colleagues at the Women Leaders of Boston event. The conference panel featured successful women in Boston media and public relations field, including Robin Dominecomi, CMO at Rue La La; Nancy Go, VP of Brand Marketing at Wayfair; Amy Scarlino, President and CEO at Catchpole Corporation; and Carrie Seifer, Senior Vice President of Global Strategy at Millennial Media.

The conversation on this specific night was focused on challenges that the panelists have faced in their careers, their unique journeys and the characteristics that have helped them to set themselves apart. While the entire panel discussion was fantastic, one reference specifically resonated with me: Carrie Seifer alluded to the April 2014 The Atlantic article, “The Confidence Gap,” written by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, noting how important it is to be your own advocate for your career.

The article dives into the peculiar fact that men continue to dominate the C-Suite despite the fact that women increasingly excelling in the classroom. It points to women’s confidence rather than competence as the reasoning for why women have yet to truly “break the glass ceiling.”

Women pursuing public relations careers share the same issue.

In another recent article in New York Magazine, “Why do we treat PR like a Pink Ghetto,”Anne Friedman writes that women continue to dominate the PR industry in numbers, referencing a Ragan study that notes that 73-85 percent of PR professionals are women, but 80 percent of upper management in the industry consists of men. Further, the study reported that men on average make $93,494annually while women average $66,467. Friedman explains that while there are a sizeable number of men in PR, women are typically the ones doing the “grunt work of sending emails, writing tweets and cold-calling contacts.”

Friedman goes on to explain that while publicity and exposure is incredibly important to a business’s success, “the profession remains synonymous for the worst female stereotypes.” She quotes Meredith Fineman, founder and CEO of FinePoint PR, noting that “the successful PR person must be a good communicator — in print, in person and on the phone. They cultivate and maintain contacts with journalists, set up speaking engagements, write executive speeches and annual reports, respond to inquiries and speak directly to the press on behalf of their client.” Despite the evidence that PR is an incredibly detail oriented, business-minded and challenging profession, Friedman asserts that women in PR are still considered “the working world’s sorority girl.”

Why, despite the measurable value PR professionals provide, are we still considered the laughing stock of the business community? I’ll explore a couple of different theories in my next post...

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