Reflections: female leadership in PR

If you’re reading this in a PR agency, take a look around you. How many of your colleagues are women? Are you one?

It’s well known and reported that the Public Relations industry employs more women than men, with the latest PRCA census showing a 66:33 split between the sexes.

Despite this obvious tilt towards women, in 2013 the PRCA found that women were less than half as likely to hold board positions or partnerships than men and, although there were no figures in the 2016 survey, it’s unlikely to have changed significantly.

Now, we’re not going to go into the debate as to why there are more women in PR, or in fact why there tend to be fewer women in leadership positions. But, as a company run by women ourselves, we wanted to take a look at the agencies we work with, big and small, and see what the picture looks like.

Obviously, these figures are based on our own exposure to the PR industry and the clients we work with, but the findings make for interesting reading.

Covering 60 companies, from boutique agencies to massive multinationals, we found that:

  • Just over half were founded by men (51%) and 39% by women
  • Women were more likely to have founded agencies with less than 25 employees, although these also tended to be the most recently founded
  • Of the agencies with 25-100 employees, almost two thirds (64%) were founded by men, and they are almost three times more likely to be run by a man (71% v. 29%)
  • When we looked at the largest agencies we work with, 0% were founded by women

A good number of the agencies we work with focus on a specific sector within PR, be that technology, food & drink or financial services. We wondered how agencies would differ in terms of male & female leadership depending on the sector in which they operate.

Interestingly, despite the well-documented shortage of women in STEM generally, we found that 61% of our tech-specialist clients were founded, and 50% managed by women – double the rate for men.

On the whole, what this tells us is that smaller and more newly founded agencies – particularly in technology – potentially offer the best opportunity for bright, talented women seeking leadership roles.

That’s not to say women shouldn’t go after the top jobs in larger agencies, or set out to found and run the next Edelman or Weber Shandwick, but if you’re one of the many smart, capable women in this industry looking for the opportunity to lead, it might just provide some food for thought.

Either way, it’s a shame that women currently appear underrepresented in the top jobs, but we’re hopeful that as the smaller, newer agencies grow, women’s share of leadership positions will grow with them.

After all, without the Angie Moxhams and Bibi Hiltons of this world, the PR industry would be all the poorer for it.

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