How can we improve the representation of women in professional life?

How can we improve the representation of women in professional life?


There's a notable difference between men and women participating at industry events, blogging and commenting in the media. I recently openly invited contributions for a crowdsourced project about the use of third-party tools in modern public relations practice or digital marketing.

I got 16 fantastic responses that are the makings of a fantastic book. But only four are from women. This is despite me personally asking female friends, colleagues, and friends of friends, to contribute.

Why is it do you think that woman are reluctant to lean in as Sheryl Sandberg suggests they must to level the stakes with men? What can we do about it?

Last week the Holmes Report spotlighted the lack of women CEOs in public relations agencies.

I sought out the comments over women in my network last weekend. I wanted to learn about their experience and hear their suggestions; I also want to help my own daughters.

The responses are refreshingly candid and honest. Confidence, bitchiness, family care and lack of support were cited as issues. There's no single solution but there are lots of positive suggestions.

The University of Louisville’s Prof. Karen Freberg, PR Conversation editor Judy Gombita, and Immediate Future CEO Katy Howell have all written longer responses that I’ll post as guest blogs over the next week.

debra-foremanDebra Forman, Partner, Director, Ketchum Digital

What is a shame is when we talk about diversity of talent – women sit in that category for better or worse.

Furthermore, why is it that there is a movement of such called 'Women in Leadership'?

It's not a movement or a club; it is half the population of the world who are strong, motivated and driven by their skills and craft. People who lead with confidence, diligence and are killer multitasking which men will never live up to.


anne-gregoryProfessor Anne Gregory, Professor of Corporate Communications, Strategy, Marketing and Economics, University of Huddersfield

It seems that in all kinds of areas women are wired differently from men.

For example, it's well known that women only apply for an advertised job if they feel they can do the vast majority of it. Men have a punt if they can do only a proportion of it, or hardly any at all, but they'd like to have a go.

The same applies to industry initiatives and public speaking. Women step forward if they feel they can do a good job and be fully committed, men will step forwards if they can do a good enough job.

This is a gross generalisation and totally unfair to both men and women, but it’s the reality.

Second reason is time. Women still do the majority of household work such as child- and parental care. They tend to get more over-committed than men. They generally don't say no enough, at home or work.

There's work for us to do on learning how to work together; men with women and vice versa so that we can get the best out of each other rather than reinforcing these behaviours.

Think what a different world and better world we'd have then.


sarah-hallSarah Hall, Managing Director, Sarah Hall Consulting

In today’s society women still shoulder the greater burden when it comes to childcare.

When working hours are limited, the amount you can deliver is naturally also reduced. Even when there is a strong will to help, this means non-urgent task, including those you’d kill to do, sometimes have to go to the bottom of the pile.

There is no easy answer to this issue. However I have re-framed how I approach this type of opportunity in order to participate more frequently.

Evaluating every project in terms of my personal and business development, and how it helps to further the profession as a whole, has made a huge difference to the positioning each one is given on my jobs’ list.

There are some big benefits from getting involved. The leads that have been created continue to be a handy wake up call for why leaning in is more valuable than you’d ever think.


becky-mcmichaelBecky McMichael, Executive Creative Director, Ruder Finn

The short answer is because we need a wife. I've tried to respond to this about three times this weekend but have had the kids on my own so will reply later.


gillian-neildGillian Neild, Head of Communications, PR & Marketing, Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust

It can take much more for a woman to step forward, put her head above the parapet and share thoughts and ideas.

In some environments in which I have worked, there has been gutsier men who will talk over you and talk much more; in some cases other women around have been borderline bitchy about those who have ideas and are able to articulately express them.

During my degree course other women outwardly hated me because I went out and created opportunities for myself that they didn't see. Women are not kind to each other sometimes.


barri-raffertyBarri Rafferty, Senior Partner and CEO, North America, Ketchum

Women are represented in the top tier media and speaking engagements closely equivalent to the same percent of executive positions they hold and this has translated from traditional media to social media interestingly.

When I speak to women about their personal brand I encourage them to put themselves out there and have more confidence to share their point of view.  Women often feel hard work will be rewarded and don't take as much time to value thought leadership.

In addition, men can have some expertise yet be willing to claim an expert position, whereas women feel they are not fit to be an expert with the same amount of knowledge.

Women need to have more swagger, take more risks and feel more confident that their point of view is interesting and meaningful.  They also need to embrace self promotion and be more willing to stand out.


charlotte-sansomCharlotte Sansom, Senior PR Manager, DWF

Building a strong personal brand takes considerable time and effort, and relies on a good network of contacts, and my sense is that, on the whole, men dedicate more of their time and energy to building that network which inevitably means that they’re presented with more opportunities.

I also think men are much more likely to prioritise activities which raise their profile and to actually carve out the necessary time in their diaries, whereas in my experience women tend to have other priorities, even if that’s just focusing on the job in hand.

I do think that if women want to work their way to the top then we’re going to have to 'man-up' in that sense and make the effort, find the time, and also have the confidence and self-belief to put ourselves out there.


kalli-soteriouKalli Soteriou, account manager, Target PR

In an industry dominated by hard-working, professional women it’s baffling why we don’t feel confident enough in our own talent to put ourselves forward.

There are still a limited number of agencies or communications departments headed up by women. If our model is that men are better at leading teams and being the face of an agency, women will be shaped by these beliefs and attitudes.

Unfortunately, women are still not seen as authority figures, are often less visible because of flexible work arrangements.

Whatever the motivation, women are less likely than men to have learned to blow their horn. And they are more likely than men to believe that if they do so, they won’t be liked.


laura-sutherlandLaura Sutherland, Managing Director, Aura PR

Women are often their own worst enemies. Bitchiness and jealousy is too often commonplace rather than helpfulness and common support.

Women tend not to shout out about their successes and sell themselves. Men by contrast are on the whole much more confident in themselves and what they have achieved.

Profile isn't everything, but we need to recognise those women who deserve it as role models for others.

The younger men that I am interviewing now seem to have more common sense than women, in to gaining industry experience. Their women counterparts have mostly worked in retail at university rather than getting industry experience.


China has plenty of headroom for growth says WPP boss Bessie Lee

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Walking meetings

Walking meetings