In a female dominated industry, do women in PR still need to ‘Lean In’?

In case you hadn’t heard, women are failing to reach their leadership potential because they don’t promote their achievements and, whereas go-getting men will be seen as assertive, women behaving in the same way will be perceived as ‘bossy’. And women don’t like to be seen as ‘bossy’.  Women also earn less than men and only 15.6% of FTSE 250 board members are female. So far,so depressing.

Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, has been making waves on both sides of the Atlantic since it was published, encouraging women to take their place at the boardroom table and focus on what they can achieve, rather than on the barriers to success.  Whether you agree with her assertions or not, the lack of women in leadership positions is a hotly debated topic.

But, do these lessons apply in a female-dominated industry? Do women in PR also need to ‘lean in’?
Around two thirds of PR account handlers (Account Executive to Account Director) are women.  So, naturally, this female dominance stays in place as they progress to the more senior director roles, and the boards of PR agencies are simply stuffed to bursting with talented women... Aren’t they?   

In fact, when you reach Associate Director level and above the male/female ratio flips, and men significantly outnumber women.  When you reach PR agency board level, there are three times as many men as women.  
One reason for this change is that women who have children find even adhering to standard office hours incompatible with child care provision: unless you have a nanny, arriving at 9 and leaving at 6 is impossible if you have any kind of a commute.  Flexible working simply isn’t being flexible enough to accommodate working mothers.

But the huge disparity in the gender ratio at board level can’t simply be attributed to a tricky return from maternity leave.   Women do tend to hide their achievements, or shrink from promoting their skills.  They don’t want to seem big-headed, pushy or arrogant so they assume people will notice their achievements without them being pointed out.  While this approach may work fine as you mosey along the path to Account Director, when you suddenly have to articulate and prove your worth to a (male dominated) board, these female tendencies will backfire.  So, women of the PR world, start practicing now.  Swallow that feeling of being a show off or an impostor and start shouting about your achievements. 

What have you done today that you feel proud of?  Tell someone, write it down, share it and if someone calls you bossy – then it’s working. 

If you’re looking for good people, we can help.  Email us here
Find out how your salary stacks up, check out the Workfish 2014 PR salary survey here.



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