Ronke Lawal, Founder of Ariatu PR
PR is a sector that stands for visibility: the goal of most PR campaigns is to ensure that audiences ‘see’ the product, service or organisation behind them. Yet too often behind the scenes it is falling short on the very professionals who add a breadth of richness and diversity to the sector.
As women in PR we are often overlooked when it comes to sector change, thought leadership and boardroom level decision making. We know that there’s a problem, and yet how do we fix it? Let’s look at it from the most basic and obvious level: how often have you seen women headline major PR events and conferences without it becoming a “tick box” exercise for inclusion? How often are female PR professionals given opportunities to speak out about their successes and wins with the same amount of gusto as their male counterparts?
Even on social media we can see the differences in terms of interaction and profiling when a woman in PR seeks to make herself heard. She’ll sometimes be trolled or shouted down and often scrutinised – whilst male counterparts are allowed the space to be far more braggadocious and bold.
Let us look deeper into this at intersectionality: Are LGBTQ, disabled and ethnic minority women in PR given fair opportunities to be seen outside the diversity spectrum? Aside from the odd diversity panel or discussion, are we placing a spotlight on the dynamic range of professionals in the sector who represent the rich tapestry of multiculturalism which makes up our nation?
As a black British-Nigerian woman born in East London I would argue that not enough is being done to make these invisible women more visible within the UK PR industry. I often wonder why we don’t collectively use our PR experience to make a difference here and what the pushbacks would be if we were to actively seek inclusion across all facets of our community. We see so many instances of tone deaf campaigns which lead to media disasters and crises, poorly planned media responses and lack of social media dynamism – which could be averted if women in PR leaders from all walks of life were given more opportunities to speak up and speak out. If they were given more access to those opportunities, surely so much about the industry could and would change. No more one-dimensional influencer campaigns featuring influencers who don’t reflect the authentic female experience; no more media missteps which overlook the very real experiences of cross-sections of our society.
I am tired of only being visible as a black woman in PR when someone wants to talk about “black” issues, I want to talk about how all issues impact me as a black woman – not simply how certain issues can only affect me BECAUSE I am a black woman. I do not want to remain invisible until someone realises that they have a black person missing from their diversity panel, I (and all my fellow BAME counterparts) should be invited to speak about our industry in the same way as our white male counterparts. I use my social media platforms to give myself the chance to be more visible, and someone once called me “brave” for being vocal on twitter. I laughed but wondered if they would say that if I were a man. Maybe we should all be braver as women in PR and make ourselves more visible in a world that is still trying to make us invisible.
Photo credit: Stephen Cotterrell