[Editor's Note: We celebrate the final day of Women's History Month 2021 with this essay.]
It’s no secret–in terms of jobs numbers, women drive the global PR industry. About 67 percent of PR pros are women, yet representation at the CEO level is only 22 percent.
Representation of women in senior leadership is imperative to a company’s success. As such, the disparity between women in PR and women in leading PR roles needs attention. What can we do?
First, organizations need to take a more proactive approach to managing talent pipelines. Removing bias from performance management, promotion and succession-planning processes is a start.
For example, leaders must prioritize career-aspiration discussions for women and other diverse employees. This will help ensure they have visibility with and exposure to the C-suite, access to internal networks and opportunities to head projects that will prepare them for leadership.
Data and measurement also are crucial. Companies should apply consistent, objective criteria to all promotion candidates, ensuring ample representation of women are considered for promotion and identified as successors.
In addition, we must have open conversations around potential biases of employees who lead talent processes. We know it is important to have diverse perspectives and opinions. Requiring a diverse hiring panel reinforces an organization’s commitment to inclusion.
The knock-on effect is that it increases the likelihood of selecting the best candidate. In performance management, an immediate precursor to promotion, a company must ensure that distribution of ratings is similar for all employee groups and performance criteria is applied consistently. One way to do this is to hold calibration sessions with key decision makers. This encourages consistent performance ratings for similar work and contributions.
Retaining Talented Women
When it comes to retaining female talent, several areas need addressing, including:
- Providing better transparency on career-progression plans, so that women are aware of what's needed to get roles they aspire to have.
- Having managers offer developmental conversations that identify growth opportunities.
- And, of course, equal pay for equal work. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) says if rates from the last 50 years hold, it will be 2059 before women achieve true parity. For women of color, equal pay will come much later: 2124 for African American women and 2233 for Hispanic women.
As we've seen with COVID-19, women are disproportionally and more severely impacted owing to gender disparities that existed prior to the pandemic. At home, many women are primary caregivers. In addition, women's responsibilities for remote schooling and running errands for vulnerable elderly relatives have significantly increased.
Offering a work environment and policies to accommodate these and other responsibilities indicate a desire to be inclusive. Moreover, this will promote retention of diverse talent.
For example, flexible schedules, support during milestone events (e.g., pre- and post-maternity or adoption leave with ample time off), childcare support and policies that help ensure women can return from maternity leave without impact to their career trajectory are important ways to foster a more inclusive work environment.
Recruiting to PR
Since women dominate PR, we should not only continue to make the field attractive for women to build a career, but be a leading force to set other industry standards. We can do a better job of talking about all facets of a PR career–how exciting it is to pitch for business, how we work with social media influencers to build brand awareness and loyalty, how we lead businesses through crises, etc.
PR pros drive industries and businesses to do better and be better. There is great meaning and purpose in what we do. We need to tell our stories better.
Azurée Montoute-Lewis is global head of DEI at Hill + Knowlton Strategies