What Biden’s all-women comms team means for the industry

The president-elect’s staff announcement reflects one option that leaders of all organizations can take in the face of guaranteed uncertainty and doubt.

Biden's new comms team

Communications from the White House are about to dramatically shift.

For one, the media is unlikely to receive a barrage of tweets in the early hours of the morning from the new commander-in-chief. Some have seen President-Elect Biden as a restorative figure, bringing back norms and standards to federal communications from the executive branch.

However, Biden’s administration will also represent change. The communications team, announced Sunday, will field the first ever all-female department of senior staff, including experienced pros such as Jen Psaki as press secretary, Kate Bedingfield as White House communications director and Pili Tobar as deputy White House communications director.

Four of the seven top comms leaders for the new administration are women of color, and the representation marks a change from U.S. history.

It’s not the first example of women having leadership roles within the White House press office, a point that was made vigorously by President Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany. However, while the grouping of senior leadership (and seniority of particular roles) can be debated, the team that will enter the White House in January has more women and women of color.

The Washington Post reported:

As plenty of people noted after McEnany tweeted what she did, Judd Deere carries the title of deputy assistant to Trump and deputy press secretary. Brian Morgenstern is also a deputy press secretary and deputy communications director. Biden’s principal deputy press secretary will be Karine Jean-Pierre, while his deputy communications director will be another woman, Pili Tobar.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether those are technically “senior” roles. Deere for one seemed to agree that he’s not in a senior role, retweeting McEnany’s tweet and drafting his own version of the same complaint.

But the same is true when it comes to Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris’s press team. Her top spokesperson will be Symone Sanders. That job is now filled by Devin O’Malley.

What does the all-women team mean for the communications industry? The announcement might speak to the broader moment of change that is happening across industries in America.

“It was exciting to see the announcement as woman in the comms industry, says Michelle Olson, APR, PRSA’s chair-elect who will take the baton from Garland Stansell in January. She notes that while the communications industry has skewed toward women, particularly at the mid-level, top jobs have still eluded women in the PR and comms industry.

Olson’s strongest point on what this new comms team might mean for the industry—and the nation—is about the moment of change we face, something that she ties back to her priorities when she enters her new role next year.

“One of the things that I’ll be focused on next year is diversity,” she says, defining the term as diversity of thought, identity, background, gender orientation and race. She says she wants to help PRSA members “understand how to really support D&I and be allies in their daily lives.” It’s a message that has seen many iterations in the months since the death of George Floyd, as the industry has grappled with its role in addressing systemic racism in the U.S.

Biden’s team, a victory for advocates of women leadership and representation for women of color, represents how an organization or individual leader could respond to what Olson sees as a pivotal moment to embrace change, inclusion and equality for all.

“The things that happened in 2020,” she says, “to me as a 35-year veteran of this industry, it was a nice reset.” The events of 2020 have made possible the many changes that might be on the horizon, a generational chance to move the needle on intractable problems in business and society from the gender pay gap to racial equality.

“The foundation got set in 2020, and now we can really grow from it,” she says, “and I’m excited about that.”

 

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