Olivia Shalofsky took a trip to Golin’s London office to meet the new Women in PR President, Bibi Hilton, to discuss her plans for her new role, advice for young professionals breaking into the industry, and the problems facing women in PR today.
- What inspired you to put yourself forward as Women in PR President?
I am passionate about diversity in all its forms, and have been a real feminist since I was young. I think one of the most concerning things about our profession is that 2/3 of it is made up of women, yet PRCA census data suggests that when you are looking at board level roles, it skews entirely the other way. How are we losing all of these brilliant and talented women mid-career?
I think in our industry, diversity within our teams is critical for us to generate the best ideas. How are we supposed to stay imaginative when everyone in the room went to the same university, or lived in the same city, and builds their ideas on similar experiences. I love what this group is doing to champion diversity.
- What do you hope to achieve during your time in this role?
I think we spend a lot of time talking and writing about issues like the gender pay gap, for example, but this doesn’t always translate into action. During my time as Women in PR President I want to have achieved real change in this industry, I want our work to have had measurable effect on, for example, the numbers of organisations offering flexible working and returnships, or to have even reduced the gender pay gap by a specific percentage. The committee this year is fantastic, and the diversity within it will bring different perspectives that we can use to affect change.
We’re making vital changes already, in fact, the PRCA sexual harassment campaign is something that I want Women in PR to work closely with this, as I believe there is a great deal of value in it. The suffragettes’ mantra was ‘deeds not words’, and that is what I would really like to focus on.
- Some people say that often women’s biggest problem when trying to climb the career ladder can be other women, have you ever experienced this?
I have never experienced that, though it is unfortunately a classic tale. Sometimes I do think that people have a tendency to blame other women in situations like this, but I’ve been privileged in the respect that I have always had great female mentors who have supported me through my whole career.
I know incredible women, Sally Costerton, Alison Clarke and Mary Whenman, to name a few, who are all examples of people who have worked endlessly to support women in their ascent up the career ladder. Madeleine Albright once said, “There’s a special place in hell for women that don’t help each other” – and I agree that that is our job as leaders, leaders of all genders to help the new generation coming up.
- There is a perceived ‘choice’, not just in our industry, that women must make a choice between having a family or excelling in their career. Do you think it is possible to have both?
I absolutely think it is possible to have both. Everybody should have the opportunity to build a career and a future on their own terms. The workplace, undeniably, has evolved so much as technology now enables us to be better, faster, and working across time zones. The essence of the workplace, however, has stayed very much the same – we are still the same people, often sitting at the same desk from the moment we arrive in the same office, to the moment we leave. It is this, the workplace culture, that I think we need to change. I see in my business now that it is men, too, that want both – they don’t want to be at work until late, missing their kids’ bed times.
It isn’t just parents either, young people are also searching for a balance that allows them to progress in their career whilst taking the time to explore and live outside of work.
- How do you think we can achieve a more flexible working environment that ensures we don’t lose anyone along the way?
Firstly employers need to introduce proper flexible working policies and champion this as a valuable and productive way of working. I work flexibly and when I need to leave to collect my daughter I walk proudly out of the office, rather than apologetically shuffling out the door. I encourage the people who work flexibly on my team to do the same. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It is a great way to get balance, be happier at work and at home and therefore more productive. To support this, we also need a dramatic change of workplace culture and stop measuring people’s performance based on whether they are sat at their desk or not.
Returnships are a great way to get brilliant female talent we may have temporarily lost back into the industry. The Back to Businessship scheme, set up by Amanda Fone and Liz Nottingham, is a fantastic scheme and Golin is proud to be one of its partners. The programme takes on 30 women a year who have been out of work for three years, trains and upskills them and helps find them a paid placement or permanent role within the industry.
- Finally, what advice would you give to young people breaking into the industry?
Network like hell. LinkedIn opens so many paths of communication between yourself and potential career champions as well as talent recruiters who will be able to connect you when you are job hunting. Golin’s Chairman Fred Cook, has an important mantra of ‘ask the captain’, and by that he means, never be afraid to ask senior people if they will meet with you and offer invaluable insight into their organisations or industries. I too believe in the phrase, ‘don’t ask, don’t get’, young professionals should seek insight into leadership roles and ask for guidance.
I would also invest time in writing, blogging or an Instagram feed, something that you can show a potential employer and say, ‘I created all of the content for this’. You need to try and gain experience, too. I think there is so much value in paid internships, which give you the chance to get valuable experience but also try out different organisations to see where you might have the best cultural fit. Unpaid work experience can also have a value but you should never work anywhere for more than two weeks unpaid.
Also don’t be afraid to negotiate your first salary, particularly for women. New research shows that the gender pay gap can start to open very early on in a woman’s career often because she didn’t negotiate the first salary. You might not get it but I guarantee they will respect you for asking.
To my twenty year old self I would say be confident, never be afraid to ask questions and join women in PR!