Women in PR: Will we ever shatter the glass ceiling?

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"A woman`s place is no longer in the home. It seems to be in the communication department."
Wilma Matthews, 1986

Back in the 1960s, women formed only 10 per cent of the American PR field. Only 20 years later, in the mid-80s, this percentage had increased to 50 per cent. This phenomenon, called the “Gender Switch”, initialized the quantitative feminization of public relations.
At the end of the 1990s, according to the US Department of Labor, two thirds of PR specialists were women.

At the same time, research has repeatedly shown that a strong vertical segmentation has taken place: men are more often working in the higher paid manager role, women work as PR technicians and therefore earn less money . Gender predicts income. Cline et al. (1986) proved that women are earning at least 18,5 per cent less then men in PR – only determined by the variable sex.

It is a fact that women are pushed aside by men while climbing the job ladder. In education, women dominate the field by far: an estimated 80 per cent of public relations majors are female. But as age and years of work experience increase, the percentage of women decreases. The main reason for this diminution is probably the problematic connection of family and job. Similar to many other professions, women have problems with coming back to a job after having a baby and experience not being as “valued” anymore, especially when working set hours. Many organizations still refuse to provide proper child care benefits or family leave policies.

Another argument is that men are taught from a young age to feel a sense of entitlement for moving up in an organization`s hierarchy, whereas women feel a lot more uncomfortable asking for promotions. Men come into entry-level positions already socialized to act like managers, and therefore, will be promoted faster than women. Even more, many organizations are still ruled by sex discriminations and sexism. Respondents of the surveys conducted by Grunig et al. (2001) and Aldoory&Toth (2002) talk about “good ol `boys networks” in organizations, where men in senior management support and promote younger men, but women are strategically excluded and run over. “It shuts them out at the management table as well as on the basketball court or on the golf course” (Grunig et al., 2001).

This has also an impact on networking amongst women. Many of them feel that the opportunities are so limited that they are forced to promote themselves at the expense of other women, a phenomenon often referred to as “catfighting” or the “queen bee syndrom”.

Another factor women are suffering from are gender stereotypes. Women are perceived of lacking managerial skills and not being able to lead. Again, this is just a consequence of gender-specific socialization processes that seem to make women more suitable for certain tasks (like communication) than others (like management), which is why a lot more women can be found working as a PR technician than a PR manager.

To overcome discrimination on an organizational/social level, general awareness of sexism in society must be raised and gender strereotypes have to be broken down. Organizations need to keep on establishing more family-friendly policies. Even more importantly, the masculine ethic in organizations has to be rethought. Family-friendly policies are of limited benefit until the value system that predominates in most organizations changes.

First, the next generation of public relations scholars has a special obligation to carry on gender research in the tradition of those who have paved the way, to help make a profession that has promised women opportunity one that delivers on that promise. Future research should particularly focus on structural criteria of the specific labour market, as well as aspects of organizational cultures.
And most importantly: Be aware of discrimination and gender inequities. The sooner you get prepared for it, the more you can change these conditions. We`re in charge of our own future and cannot wait for the world to change - better change it yourself. Be aware of things like networking among men and try to break into it.

Previous studies have shown that there is still a high level of denial when it comes to gender inequities. Both men and women tend to deny that discrimination is as pronounced as the research indicates, even when faced with the hard facts. So women, should be aware of this subject and start to deal with it as early as possible, in order to succeed.


Aldoory, L. & Toth, E. L. (2002). Gender discrepancies in a gendered profession: A developing theory for public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 14(2), 103-126.

Cline, C. G. & Toth, E. L., Turk, J. V., Walters, L. M., Johnson, N. & Smith, H. (1986). The velvet ghetto: The impact of the increasing percentage of women in public relations and business communication. Summary Report. San Francisco: IABC Foundation.

Dozier, D. M. (1988). Breaking public relations´ glass ceiling. Public Relations Review, 14(3), 6-14.

Grunig, L. A., Toth, E. L. & Hon, L. C. (2001). Women in public relations. How gender influences practice. New York: Guilford Press.

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