Several weeks ago I was invited to participate on a panel at the Chicago kickoff of Cision’s World Tour.
As we got closer to the event, I realized I was the only female speaker on the docket. It was shocking.
Communications is a female-dominated industry, and plenty of talented, high-profile women in Chicago could have participated. Instead Cision had male speakers for both the opening and closing keynotes. I shared my panel with four men.
To be fair, our panel did have a female moderator, the PRSA Chicago president. However, during the cocktail reception, I had several attendees (both men and women) ask me: “Why were you the only woman who spoke? Don’t we dominate this industry?”
Yes and no.
Women are still underrepresented
Recently, Cision released their Listen e-book authored by—you guessed it—five men. The book discusses social relations and customer experience. All the authors are experts, but so are women like Jeannie Walters, Jeanne Bliss and Annette Franz. Unfortunately, not a single woman was represented in the e-book.
Again, in fairness, Cision published a female-focused blog post around the same time, but an e-book is more significant than a blog post.
Women make up 64 percent of the communications industry, yet we’re not represented in leadership roles, in content or at conferences.
The problem with men telling women to speak up
To make matters worse, PRWeek held its Hall of Femme event recently.
Richard Edelman spoke first about the challenge. He said, “If women don’t feel their voices are being heard in the corporate world, they need to speak up more loudly. It might sound silly to give adults the advice to ‘speak up,’ but it is a learned behavior with which even professionals in their 40s struggle.”
Edelman recalled that he recently asked women on his executive team why they are quiet during meetings. Their response: It’s because of the room’s “macho culture.”
Edelman then said, “I asked them, ‘How are we going to fix that? Either you’re going to speak up, or I’m going to have to hammer the guys. They said, ‘Hammer the guys first,’ and I said, ‘You speak up first.'”
The male leader of the world’s largest private PR firm won’t stand up for the women on his team by creating an equal culture.
Again, because I want to be completely fair, the PRWeek event did honor nine women—but those women were not on the panel giving advice to other women about equality.
The brand persona is not represented in the marketing
Let’s say for argument’s sake that you are working on a communications program to build awareness for a new product. Your No. 1 brand persona is a 28-year-old female with two kids.
She works, is highly motivated, spends a bit of her personal time sharpening her skills and she travels. She is the decision influencer and the decision maker.
If you wanted to get her attention and build trust with her:
- Would you host a conference with only one female speaker?
- Would you produce an e-book written by five men?
- How about hosting a male-led panel discussion about women’s issues?
We must all be smart about who our prospective customers are and how to market to them. In communications we absolutely should have conversations about equality and how to be heard in a macho culture, but the conversations, the content and the leadership should be equal. Both men and women should be well represented.
I do want to hear how men think we can be heard in a macho culture—and I want to hear how women have done it. Also, we should take measures to make certain macho cultures no longer exist.
I want to hear how both men and women have done that.
It starts at the top
Cision’s leadership team is composed exclusively of men, except for its chief HR officer.
Richard Edelman should be embarrassed he’s leading a “macho culture.”
When asked to participate at conferences, on boards, in content or in any other professional endeavor, men should stand up and say, “Wait a second!”
Step up. Say something. Boycott if need be, and ask your peers to do the same. It starts at the top.
Change must start with the leadership team. Organizational cultures, speakers at conferences, who gets selected to write content and offer advice to women—all these details matter.
There are lots of reasons men still dominate these arenas of public relations—reasons we could debate endlessly—but it’s up to all of us to create change. It starts with demanding more equitable treatment across the board(room).