By Katrina Olson
In 2012, Pennsylvania State PR student Alexis Morgan wrote an article, “Why are there so few male students in PR classes?” for Lawrence Ragan Communications, Inc.’s PRDaily.com. Her professors offered the following explanations.
“PR is more of a conservative field, while advertising is more relaxed,” Manuel observed. He believes men are more attracted to the casual advertising environment than the fast-paced PR world,” said Steve Manuel, adding, “Women are seen as more sensitive, more approachable, and as being better listeners than men.”
However, Manuel explained that men continue to dominate the upper echelons of PR due to the glass ceiling, also citing the significant salary inequality between the sexes.
Penn State Professor Ann Major Major noted the decrease in males during her 30-year teaching career. “During the last few years, only one or two males are enrolled in my senior-level courses, and I taught a class last fall with all-female enrollment,” Major said. “When I started teaching at Penn State in 1995, typically 30 percent of the students enrolled in my classes were male.”
Major attributed the decline of male students in part to the increase in women enrolling in colleges nationally. But she echoed Manuel’s observation about the lack of women in upper management.
“Women are prevalent in the profession at entry-level and junior-level positions,” Major said. “However, from mid-level to upper-level management positions, men still dominate the profession.”
Knowing I was a PR instructor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, then-PR Daily writer/editor Matt Wilson asked if I would like to write a response to Morgan’s article.
To prepare, I surveyed my students about why they chose a PR class, what they found intriguing about PR, what skills they might bring to a PR career and what they might NOT like about a PR career. Here’s what they said:
“The conflict. I like the idea of getting the juicy tidbits on people and having the power to make or break people.”
“I think that it would be a great career to be the leveling force of a company and be trusted as the moral compass.”
“PR is used to manipulate public opinion from behind the scenes and not letting the public know you are trying to manipulate their opinions.” (Note: we had watched “Thank You For Smoking” the previous week so their perceptions may have been tainted by this “mocumentary.”)
I also conducted a focus group with 15 students to ask their perceptions about men’s and women’s motivations for pursuing careers in PR. Here are the results:
“There are more jobs in fields tailored to women more than men. I’d like to do sports PR. Women have more choices within the field.”—Alex (male)
“Men seem to avoid confrontation, and PR is very confrontational. You can’t be afraid to start fights or dive into a fight.”—Janelle (female)
“Men are confrontational, but do it in less strategic ways.”—Anonymous (female)
“I like being busy; women tend to be better writers, and they like managing stuff.”—Anonymous (female)
“Women are drawn to more abstract ideas.”—Anonymous (female)
“Empathy is the big thing; that’s why there are so few women in engineering.”—Anonymous (female)
“Women are more empathetic. Men are lazy and just don’t care.”—Nathan (male)
“Women are more social.”—Hannah (female)
“The writing part doesn’t excite me as much as meeting objectives and pretty much everything else aside from writing. I mean once you get in the upper levels. It’s about manipulation, strategy, and gamesmanship. To get in is hard, and then I have to work my way up.”—Alex (male)
My informal, non-scientific research revealed that the guys’ motivations were based largely on the desire for power, excitement and responsibility.
This may at least partially explain why, although women make up about 70% of the PR workforce, they only hold about 30% of the industry’s top positions according to The Holmes Report (http://www.holmesreport.com/long-reads/article/why-aren’t-there-more-female-ceos-in-pr). Further, only 30% of CEOs in leading PR firms are women (http://everything-pr.com/women-public-relations/).
If you’re wondering why, catch next Monday’s Marketing Momentum.
Olson is a veteran marketing and public relations consultant and practitioner, freelance writer, former college professor, principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications (KatrinaOlson.com), and a regular contributor to TED Magazine’s print and online editions. Katrina has worked in marketing for the retail, service, publishing, healthcare, financial services, automotive and electrical distribution industries in addition to running her own marketing communication agency and consultancy for more than 20 years. She has 39 local, regional and national awards for her work. Katrina can be reached at Katrina@katrinaolson.com.