Women in PR: Why they win

Tue, May 01 2012

The practice of public relations is an inherently feminine activity. This doesn’t mean that it has to be undertaken by women or that guys who practice PR are men-in-frocks (that’s another post!), but it does mean that many of the qualities of an excellent PR pro are feminine rather than masculine. I wonder, does it also mean that women are better at PR than men or, alternatively, have a head start over them?

You tell me!

For me, it definitely means that women have a head start. I read an excellent academic exploration of this issue a number of years ago and, to the best of my memory, this post explores some of the points, and others, it made.

This is one area where women come out ahead of men. And this doesn’t just mean showing empathy, it means actually feeling what the other person or organisation is feeling. By having this feeling, some might argue that it gives a valuable additional dimension to the more intellectual quality of understanding the other person’s or organisation’s situation.

I am not implying that men have a greater intellectual capability to understand another’s situation. As far as I am concerned, women and men are equal on the intellectual capability scorecard. But on this point, like others noted here, I am sure psychologists would have a field day.

It has been purported that women are better than men at sharing power, encouraging and mentoring employees (including direct reports) and sharing and giving praise.

Personally, I have experienced women bosses doing this to a very high standard. I have also experienced the reverse. If push comes to shove, however, I tend to think this is a generally accurate presumption.

Creativity in PR
There is no question that creativity is absolutely necessary if you are going to succeed in public relations. It is necessary, and appreciated, at all levels of the field. One of the challenges of being creative is being so within constraints: financial, reputation, positioning – all have limitations as to where creativity can go. I tend to think that this is one reason why women dominate PR. They can let go, more easily than men, of the strictures that inhibit the mind from flying free and coming up with fresh ideas.

Women are better writers than men
Oh ho – now we’re getting onto something! This is an extension of the creativity theme, to a degree, but also simply that some might say women have a tendency to go for arts and men are more inclined to the sciences.

Now I am not so sure about this at all (though stats may well bear it out), but I do know that writing is the number one PR skill. It is even more important than being a genuinely nice person, which is pretty high up the list. As for me, I’m not sure women are better writers at all, but I’ve certainly come across some fantastic ones.

I tend to think that, partly due to the greater degree of empathy that women possess, they are superior at having conversations with a wide range of people. They are more relaxed with people and can facilitate conversations better than men. Perhaps this is coloured by my own inadequacies in the conversationalist realm (I’m a terrible ‘function networker’!), but I genuinely think this is the case. And this capability of women extends into non-face-to-face realms as well, providing an excellent basis for them to build meaningful relationships with stakeholders. An interesting echo of this point is, according to research undertaken by Brian Solis, women are far more hooked into social media (um, a collection of conversational mediums when it’s humming) than men.

Women are more intelligent than men
Well, I am thinking high school results here. And how hard it is to get into PR university courses. It’s almost as difficult as getting into medicine and law last time I looked. And it’s my understanding that there are a lot more women getting into PR courses than men in Australia.

Ipso facto, better high school marks and more places in uni courses could reflect, and/or lead to, women being more intelligent than men.

Multitasking superiority in PR
Gemma Craven of Ogilvy said in the video interview below that women are better multi-taskers than men, with PR being a very heavy multi-tasking environment. It is a fair enough observation, and at least one study confirms women’s multi-tasking superiority.

But at the end of the day I don’t think being a poor multi-tasker stops men from entering the profession. It may impact on their rise through the ranks, but I highly doubt that less than ideal multi-tasking will prompt them to leave it.

So I don’t agree with this point being one of any significance.

Women are more ethical than men
Being ethical is a fundamental component of best practice PR. And women are definitely more ethical than men.

Or are they? Well, according to that great truth factory, Hollywood, they’re not. They’re equal. Just check this Thank You For Smoking clip.

Men in marcomms are too up themselves
In an interesting discussion from a couple of years ago in Australia’s Marketing magazine, Mark Ritson essentially said that women in marketing are more humble than men. The former are more likely to put the good of the organisation ahead of their own ego. Interestingly, it’s all to do with women’s brains. They’re better than men’s – in marketing, and by extension PR, anyway.

Women and men in PR: and the winner is… At the end of the day, of course, and don’t bore me and everyone else if this is the only comment you have, it is all about the individual. But do not forget one thing: women totally DOMINATE the numbers in PR. There must be real, tangible reasons for this.

So maybe some of the above points are true. Maybe they’re not? What do you think?  


Guest blog post by Craig Pearce, Founder, Craig Pearce Strategic Communication. Craig believes public relations entail short-term pain for long-term gain. He uses academic rigour and creativity to help stimulate mutual organisation-stakeholder change, for mutual benefit. You can learn about his capabilities at his thought leadership blog, Public relations and managing reputation, and connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

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