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Gemma Sowerby

Published on

March 6, 2020


International Women's Day

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual – emphasising the role that each of us has to play – “all day, every day” – to advance gender equality.

This theme is a poignant reminder that the onus for progressing the role of women doesn’t fall only to women. Rather, it puts a spotlight on the role that men – and those at the top of organizations, regardless of their gender – need to play.

It’s not an overstatement to say we still have a long way to go. The UN Development Programme this week released their first gender social norm index and found that almost 90% of people are biased against women, and almost half of people feel men are superior political leaders.

Despite advances in workplace equality in recent years, the data also found that more than 40% believe men make better business executives. In marketing and PR, where around 2/3 of the global workforce are women, this is troubling. We already know that while junior staff are predominantly female, agency boardrooms are still male-dominated and the majority of CMOs are male.

Bring on the Boardroom

That said, the boardroom is changing. A Spencer Stuart report found that 3 in 4 (73%) senior marketers expect to see more and more marketing and comms leaders taking up boardroom positions. The report shows that right now, CMOs make up a tiny proportion of boardroom seats, with the role of Chief Communications Officers almost non-existent.

An influx of board seats for marketers in the next few years means there’s an urgent need for the board to be reflective of the global workforce. That means more women and more people from diverse backgrounds. It already looks like this is taking shape, as almost half of newly-appointed CMOs in H1 2019 were female.

If this is set to change, what could it mean for equality in our industry? And what should we be doing to make this a reality?

Making Change Happen

At the PRCA’s ‘Finding and addressing the glass ceiling in PR’ panel this week, the main item on the agenda was working out how we can get more women in more senior positions and advance gender equality, and how to put this into practice.

There were three main areas where it seems big advances still need to be made:

1. Flexible working

The most-discussed method of achieving greater gender equality at work was, unsurprisingly, the role of flexible working. In fact, Women in PR have this week launched a survey where PR professionals can share their experiences of flexible working, with the hope that the results will push the industry in the right direction.

One point raised was that people often misunderstand what flexible working means: it’s not just working from home or working part-time. In reality, it can be leaving work early to attend a gym class, going flexi-time for short period to care for a family member or take up a new hobby, or even taking entire months off to spend the school holidays with your kids. Companies who implement these ‘real’ flexible working policies will remove a major stumbling block to women at the top – who often choose flexible working over salary or progression, contrary to men – and create a happier, more engaged, and more loyal workforce across the board.

2. Recruitment & career gaps

Another key question for the panellists was this – does a career gap wipe your memory? Clearly not, so why are some recruiters so reticent to recommend or hire candidates who have taken time out of the 9-5 life to care for their families, travel, or go freelance? It shouldn’t be that the ‘perfect candidate’ is one with a linear career path – and it’s now being seen by the most progressive in our industry as a form of discrimination. As an industry that prides itself on creativity, we should champion those who take a creative way to the top, not punish them.

3. Positioning marketing and PR

Less on workplace policies, and more on how more marketers on boards will positively impact women – in tandem with the right policies – several panellists discussed how to ‘sell’ PR and marketing to the board. Catering to the forward-looking nature of boardrooms, rather than looking back on results and learnings, is crucial – so too is being smart with when we bring marketing and PR into the conversation. Too much won’t convince marketing-shy boards that our function is business-critical. We know how important our work is to the entire business, but we might have to step far outside our lane to make the boardroom recognise this.

The onus for implementing all of this is largely on the people at the top. This means male executives taking responsibility, as well as female executives ensuring they’re doing everything they can in the boardroom to advance the cause for those further down the ladder. All the PRCA panellists agreed on one thing: women at the top who pull the ladder up behind them are one of the biggest hurdles to achieving workplace gender equality.

Glass Ceilings, not Ceiling

To create a marketing industry with gender equality at its heart, we need to take all the opportunities we can to get talented female marketers and those from diverse backgrounds further up the ladder, and into senior positions. More importantly, still, we need to put the wheels in motion now to make this reality.

This can best take shape by focusing on flexible working that works for everyone, educating recruiters and hiring managers on how to achieve diversity of age and background, and by positioning marketing and PR as critical business priorities that can get more of us into the boardroom.

Put simply, there isn’t one glass ceiling – there are many. Different women will experience different obstacles on their path to the top, and it’s on everyone to put policies in place to remove these obstacles wherever possible. Only then will the marketing and PR industry be truly progressive.

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