Empowering Panel: Discussing the Complexities and Opportunities of Being a Woman in PR

Suzanne Boys, PhD.

Suzanne Boys, PhD.

Although PR professionals work in a female dominated field, many also work in male dominated industries or for predominately male C-suites. According to Jennifer Risi of Ogilvy Public Relations, "Depending on who you ask, women hold anywhere from 61% to 85% of all PR jobs, and 59% of all PR managers are female. And yet, according to the 2014 World PR Report, only 30% of all global PR agencies are run by women." (http://bit.ly/2wQeMPo)

"Add to this ongoing discussions around work-life balance, a persistent gender pay gap, and contradictory advice to 'lean in' but not be too aggressive, and it is clear that being a woman in PR is far from simple."

To address both the complexities of being a woman in PR, Cincinnati PRSA recently convened a panel of local pros for a luncheon discussion. Over 30 local professionals gathered for a discussion led by the following panelists:

Linda Dektas, Creative Storm
Brandy Jones, Metro
Jackie Reau, Game Day Communications
Amy Vaughan, Possible and Women in Digital

Amy Vaughan gave attendees the advice to talk in terms of “we” and to intentionally grow allies, champions and networks. For her, being a team player and being collaborative are essential stepping stones to professional success.

Recently named to the Cincinnati Business Courier’s 2017 Top Forty under 40 class, Metro’s Brandy Jones encouraged participants to have both a mentor and a sponsor. While a mentor may coach and develop your professional skillset, a sponsor will vouch for you and speak up for you.

Referencing her career in (male dominated) sports communications, Jackie Reau advised: “In a booked field, create a niche.”

Brandy Jones advised attendees: “Don’t apologize. Be assertive. Speak up!” On the tails of this advice, Amy Vaughan admitted that not everyone feels confident speaking up. Her advice was to create an environment of support, to watch out for unconscious bias, and to leverage HR training.

On the difficult question of creating work-life balance, Amy Vaughan quipped, “I’m not seeking balance. I’m seeking sanity.” She went on to advise each woman to define what her own “all” in the “having it all” equation might be. She also encouraged women to “embrace the crazy” and not allow themselves to feel guilty as they balance work and life. Linda Dektas added: “You do the best you can in each part of your life. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Women always go the extra mile.” She went on to describe how she does her best, but has learned to set up boundaries both at work and at home. Amy Vaughan agreed with the power of saying no, and of asking for help. Brandy Jones advised women to schedule time for themselves, if necessary. “And,” she added, “when you are home, be home!”

Reflecting on getting her agency certified by WBENC as a women’s business enterprise, Linda Dektas said that the certification process was daunting, but valuable. She emphasized, however, that thriving as an agency is more about delivering excellent work than about being a certified diversity supplier.

Discussing stereotypical gender differences in communication, Jackie Reau admitted that valuing one’s own work is challenging. She recommended PR professionals be bold in asking for a sale and be clear in asking for budget numbers. Amy Vaughan added: “No one is going to give it to you. You have to ask for it.” She also advised women to avoid false modesty, instead taking credit for their work.

Talking about the lack of women in leadership roles across the industry, the panelists agreed that Cincinnati is ahead of the curve. Where there are fewer women in top roles, however, a sense of competition can emerge. Amy Vaughan noted that the more women populate leadership roles, the less exclusivity and (negative) competitiveness there will be. For those who work in less than supportive environments, her advice was clear: “Rise above it. You don’t have to emulate the leadership above you.”

Thanks for all our participants and panelists for a great discussion!