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How Women in PR can help close the Gender Say Gap

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Gender equality is having a moment. From gender pay gap reporting to the first anniversary of the #MeToo movement, shining a light on inequality is changing the standards society will tolerate.

But these critical milestones are just symptoms of a much bigger issue: the ‘Gender Say Gap’ – the invisibility of women and other diverse groups in business and in public life.

Society has failed to acknowledge a quiet revolution. For the last decade women have outnumbered men in high status professions. But we are missing. And this really matters. Because women can’t be what we can’t see. For example, just one in ten high school children can name a famous woman working in technology – is that because we don’t exist or because of the Gender Say Gap? Skilled talent shortages will be compounded if young women can’t see their future in the professions that shape our society and protect our planet. What innovations will we miss out on as a result?

The PR industry has a critical role to play in closing the Gender Say Gap. Which is why I’m delighted to be part of this initiative with WIPR and PRCA. If we want to close the gap we need to address the root of the problem.

Public relations is an example of an industry where women have succeeded. We have an abundance of inspiring female business leaders and agency owners but, while women make up two-thirds of the communications workforce, the majority of senior roles are filled by men, so we still have some work to do. WIPR’s latest research with Opinium reveals that less than a quarter (24%) of women in the profession have spoken at events and more than half (53%) had experienced events with all-male speaker and panel line-ups. Making our leaders more visible and inspiring the next generation will be critical to closing our industry’s Gender Say Gap.

More importantly, we can use our influence as consultants and communications leaders to unleash a more diverse selection of thinkers and spokespeople to champion brands and corporates. We can lead the charge by calling for organisations in every sector to measure their Gender Say Gap: to compare the demographic profile of their market, their workforce and their customer base, with the thinkers and speakers for their organisation.

What can you do about it?

The very first step is identifying the Gender Say Gap and championing change.

  1. Audit the Gender Say Gap
    Whether you are a consultant or part of an in-house team, assess the corporate brand, marketing and PR footprint of an organisation to compare the diversity of its public profile with the diversity of the workforce and client base. Examine corporate profiles, separately from expert profiles – a lack of diversity at Board level should not excuse a lack of diversity in expert ambassadors. You can benchmark the Gender Say Gap and diversity ratios against competitors and aspirational peers to reinforce the opportunity to be a leader not a laggard.
  2. Set bold goals
    Companies can set business and brand targets to narrow their Gender Say Gap, and ensure the diversity agenda is sponsored at the highest level. For example, Accenture has set the goal of a gender balanced workforce by 2025 with women accounting for 25% of Managing Directors by the same date. To achieve this, they are actively focused on mobilising visible female experts. If you’re agency side, you can set the goal of closing the Gender Say Gap and championing diversity in all your client communications.
  3. Create an expert development programme to unleash new speakers and thinkers
    Create a development programme to build the confidence and capability of experts from a range of diverse groups and inspire them to step forward as brand ambassadors for your agency or client company. Such programmes can help tackle the root causes of the Gender Say Gap and train the next generation of thinkers and spokespeople to be powerful ambassadors for your organisation and diverse speakers everywhere.
  4. Utilise talent within the marketing and corporate communications team
    There are many senior women within marketing and public relations whose capabilities as expert spokespeople on all industries are often overlooked. Make sure you contact WIPR to put yourself or your clients forward to be added to the WIPR Speakers Directory for our profession, and don’t be afraid to be a spokesperson for the issues and sectors you are expert in.
  1. Say no to all-male panels – ‘manels’
    Use your influence to disrupt panels and conference agendas that lack diversity – and proactively offer spokespeople from diverse groups within your agency and your clients’ businesses to restore the balance.

The PR industry has the power to bring about major changes in the faces and voices of business and public life today and tomorrow. Let’s work together to make diverse thinkers and speakers more visible and close the Gender Say Gap.

Claire is Founder and CEO of Man Bites Dog, the strategic ideas company. They work with intelligent firms in technology, professional and financial services to turn their expertise into competitive advantage through powerful thought leadership. To learn more about what Man Bites Dog has been doing to raise awareness of the Gender Say Gap and how to close it, click here