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Inspiring women to reach their full potential

Mary Whenman

Mary Whenman, Past President, Women in PR

When I took on the role of President of Women in PR three years ago, little did I know the impact it would have on me personally. Just three months after being appointed I walked into a meeting room to be told, my ‘female narrative was damaging to morale’, I was ‘too ambitious’ and my ‘industry profile was too high’. There are only two responses to situations like these – curl up in a ball and don’t leave the house or decide to hold your head high and prove the naysayers wrong.

A year later, I was arriving at Cannes Lions to represent Women in PR as a judge on the Glass Lion jury. That same year we won a silver Stevie award in New York for Women in Business for being ‘a catalyst for female success’ and became a founding partner in the PRCA CPD Programme. In 2017 our blog was recognised by Vuelio as a Top 10 UK PR blog by women, and we were shortlisted at the PR Week Awards in the new Force for Good category.

So how did we get there? First and foremost, after my predecessors had reorganised Women in PR and put it onto a firm financial footing, the first job was to modernise the organisation and make it relevant to the women working in today’s UK PR industry. This meant turning it into an issues-led networking group which represents the industry’s senior women and the next generation of female leaders.

Early on we rewrote our mission – inspiring women to reach their full potential – and then set about creating a whole new identity and building a new website to reflect our mission.

At the same time, we identified three workplace issues we would advocate on – to support female representation in the boardroom by nurturing future female talent; to help close the gender pay gap; and to support flexible working.

We immediately approached PR Week about taking on the management of the PR Week Mentoring scheme and in deputy editor, John Harrington, we found a strong ally. In 2018, the PR Week Mentoring scheme celebrates its fifth year supporting the next generation of female leaders, and 60 women have successfully passed through the programme.  None of this would have been possible without our incredible mentors.

Over the past three years, Women in PR has campaigned to close the gender pay gap. In 2015 nobody wanted to listen and there was a lot of collective eye rolling. Now the issue has gone mainstream.  In April, gender pay reporting becomes mandatory for companies employing 250 employees or more.  Women in PR has worked with the PRCA and PR Week on the industry’s gender pay gap consultation designed to encourage organisations with less than 250 employees to undertake gender pay reporting and this year, we undertook PR and Pay Inequality research with the CIPR, to understand the reasons why there is a gender pay gap. Eight reasons were identified with unconscious bias sitting at the heart of them all.

It’s been a busy three years for the Committee. We have increased our membership subscriptions by 72.5%, hosted 34 events for 1,500 guests and increased our Twitter followers more than eleven-fold from 300 to almost 3,400.

We have also introduced a whole host of services for our members, including an annual membership survey, corporate membership, a members’ benefits programme and a new on-line membership application. All of this has been achieved by a volunteer Committee who all have busy day jobs.

As I hand over to our new President and her Committee, one of the objectives I set three years ago was to attract a more diverse membership to Women in PR. We have an important role to play in supporting BME female leaders and role modelling them within the PR industry. We have contributed to this by regularly featuring BME women on our award-winning blog, and recruiting two BME mentors to the PR Week Mentoring scheme which also has an alumnus of successful BME mentees.

However, this is not enough, and we need the Women in PR Committee to better reflect a diverse PR industry to which we all aspire, and which is representative of all women working in our industry. As I write this blog before the 2018 Committee elections are complete, my ambition is that I will leave the Women in PR Committee with at least one, if not more, BME Committee members.

Only then, will my work here be done.

Thank you to Francis Ingham, Director General, PRCA and Alison Clarke, former PRCA Chair for supporting me throughout my Presidency and to my amazing Committee – Caroline Atkinson, Asa Baaw, Jane Baerselman, George Blizzard, Nicola Green, Sam Grocutt, Nicky Imrie and Ali Jeremy. With special thanks to my two Vice Presidents, Shelley Facius and Claire Foster and Treasurer, Nicola Hyde.

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