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The Gender Confidence Gap

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Refreshing news recently that Barri Rafferty has been appointed as Global CEO at the Ketchum agency. But the overall lack of women in the PR boardrooms round the world remains a major concern.

Even though the worldwide PR industry is two-thirds female, the number of board directors that are women is in complete reverse – 38% female v. 62% male. And who’s sitting at the boardroom table at the 30 biggest PR agencies worldwide? 78% of the CEOs are men. These statistics need to change.

Our annual GWPR survey* undertaken earlier this year across 19 countries helped to provide us with several clues as to why PR women are not better represented at the top. And for me one of the most striking findings that jumped out was the gender confidence gap.

Twice as many women (26%) said they were ‘not very confident’ asking for a promotion or pay rise, compared to 13% of men. And 28% of men thought they would definitely reach the top of the career ladder, compared to 18% of women.

So why is it that so many women underestimate their own ability? Why do they believe they don’t have what it takes to reach the top of the PR profession? What is holding them back?

Some clues came out of our survey ‘it would be too difficult to juggle the demands of a boardroom role with my home and family commitments’ (34%) and ‘I’m not confident enough’ (30%).

So how can we as an industry help women in PR succeed? Number one we have to introduce more flexible working practices.  Not surprisingly, 83% of the survey respondents (both men and women) found balancing childcare and work commitments challenging and 2/3 of women said they took on the main responsibility for organising childcare. It is no surprise that we are losing women at mid-career level; they just can’t juggle everything.

And yet the vast majority of global PR agencies stick to the out-dated workplace model of going to the office ‘9-5’. Over half (56%) of our survey respondents believed they could do their job just as efficiently if they didn’t have a fixed office work space.  A resounding 81% said they felt they would be just as efficient if they could choose the hours they work.

In these days of 24-7 communications and the ability to stay connected anywhere in the world, why do we need to stick to the traditional 9-5 working day? The PR industry needs to shape up to a newer, more modern way of working. And this, in turn, will help women better manage the demands of work and family commitments.

The other issue is women’s lack of confidence and this may be harder to solve, as the change needs to come from them. We know that gender stereotypes are determined at a very young age and there are social implications. However one solution is mentoring and training women to build confidence.

The PR Week mentoring programme run by WPR UK has been a huge success. https://womeninpr.org.uk/what-we-do/ Learning from other senior women who have broken through the glass ceiling can really help women at mid-career level develop their confidence and skills. #PRWEEK MENTORING

And, finally this isn’t just about doing the right thing in society. All the research from management consultancies on gender imbalance reveals that a more balanced boardroom makes businesses more profitable.

We are continuing to lose talented women at mid-career level in PR. We need to keep them in the industry, support their work-life balance and build their confidence. Let’s work together so we can get more women leaders at the PR boardroom table.


 * GWPR annual survey 2017 conducted via OnePoll.


GWPR is a global organisation for senior women in PR made up of networking groups around the world; offering cross-border support, information on best practice and networking events. We are a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting female talent in the PR industry and an important sector group of ICCO (the International Communications Consultancy Organisation).