These days many are trying to “break into” the job market rather than “break free” [insert cheeky reference to Queen]. Often I have found myself participating in discussions about whether I believe that women have an equal chance to men of finding rewarding employment in the UK in this particular sector? It’s a difficult question to answer, mainly because there are so many unknown variables at play which may affect aspirations and the ability to seize opportunities. Ambition is one of them. Upbringing and the internal understanding and expectations of the women’s role in society is another. However, there are some external factors that are rather difficult to ignore when considering this topic. For example, considering reports claiming that up to 40% of managers avoid hiring young women simply to get around maternity leave, as quoted in the Guardian recently, it appears that female graduates’ chances of getting their foot on the career ladder may nearly be halved that of men. This sort of attitude has also seeped into popular culture, with the self-made billionaire and star of the BBC’s Apprentice, Sir Alan Sugar even voicing his doubts about employing women of “child-bearing age”.
Yet it is clear that some industry sectors have a better track record of hiring women than others and this is worth keeping in mind. For instance, while the Technology sector is notorious for its gender imbalance, with only between 10-20% of engineers employed by tech companies being women, sectors such as Teaching, Communication and PR boast over 60% female make-up according to statistics commissioned by the House of Commons. The Holmes Report gives an even larger figure of 70% women employees in the sector, but alarmingly asks why only 30% of them reach top positions.
Nevertheless, while levels of employment among men and women seems to be evenly distributed in the PR sector, the question of whether women receive less pay is still open. While it is difficult to obtain official salary figures, some Recruitment agencies such as the works in London provide a very helpful insight through their annual salaries survey. Furthermore, an article in PR Week published in March this year highlights the fact that one in four women, reading the magazine, were reluctant to ask for a promotion and were more likely to set up their own agency. This comes in addition to the news that, according to a report published by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) male professionals are paid on average £8500 more than women purely because of their gender.
Nevertheless, there are some organisational mechanisms in place to promote gender equality in the PR industry and help talented women excel. One such networking organisation is “Women in PR” which was established to support senior women working in the PR industry. At first glance it provides everything an aspiring female professional could hope for: mentoring, networking and campaigning for equal pay for men and women. However, a closer look reveals that the PR mentoring project is only available to 15 mid-career, female communications professionals each year, which means that the rest and fresh graduates in particular, are excluded. A further element which tends to be confusing is the ambiguity regarding which accreditation an aspiring PR graduate should pursue, PRCA or CIPR? Upon seeking the opinion of several senior PR professionals I received very mixed responses, some even dismissed these formal qualifications altogether, arguing that the PR industry is so client-specific, that the skills one would obtain from these generic courses would have limited applicability. Still, isn’t it always a good idea to have professional accreditation of some sort, to prove one’s skills in the industry?
Thus, it appears that despite the numerous professional bodies offering information and further help to PR professionals, closing the gender pay gap is still a work in progress. It certainly is a more welcoming industry to female employees, in comparison with the grey-suit world of finance and the male-dominated tech industry. Nevertheless, I would argue that some further support and guidance for young graduates aiming to make a start in the industry would be beneficial to men and women alike.