The number of highly successful women serving as speakers and panelists at the recent Media Relations 2006 conference had us posing the question, have women finally shattered that proverbial glass ceiling in PR?

With 66 percent of the public relations industry being female (as are 80 percent of PR students in college), according to the 2001 book, Women in Public Relations, one would believe that women would continue to comprise the majority of the profession all the way through the executive suite. But is that the case?

While there are women, such as Diane Dixon, MaryLee Sachs and Helen Ostrowski, who have successfully opened the doors of the C-Suite, generally, women in the upper levels of management are still unusual in the PR industry.

One study by D. Meyerson and J.Fletcher published in The Harvard Business Review found that women only make up ten percent of the senior managers in the Fortune 500 companies and less than four percent of the upper most ranks of CEOs, presidents and executive vice president.
With some prominent women in public relations calling for more men into the profession in general, where does that leave women who are trying to make it up to the C-Suite?

Research by Linda Hon in 1995 pointed to a large number of women starting their own businesses—in fact, at three times the rate of men. She reports that female entrepreneurs were quick to cite the glass ceiling as the reason for starting their own businesses. While a glass ceiling wasn’t the reason we started our company, considerations of how much more freedom there would be in owning your own business definitely added to our desire to start our firm.
As women trying to balance work and family, we have to wonder how many men are asking the same question of themselves. This is where there seems to be the greatest disparity between men and women, and not just in PR.

While women have come very far in the last 25 years, especially in PR, the fact that we are still asking ourselves how we can manage our family and home life with our workday world shows that the onus of that family responsibility still falls on women’s shoulders. We have seldom heard a man uttering those same words regarding his job and family. Mind you, there are most definitely men who feel those same pressures, but who tend not to voice them—particularly not at work, to say, a boss.

Until we recognize that balancing work and family is not just a “women’s issue,” but rather a family and workplace issue for both women and men—and that workplaces should have policies in place regarding family leave rather than forcing individuals to negotiate these waters themselves—we will still be in the same place 25 years from now, bemoaning women’s lack of advancement to the C-Suite in PR.

Unless, of course, the women who flee corporate PR today are the women who start companies that become top-ten firms in 25 years. Now, there is some food for thought for corporate PR.

Susan Matthews Apgood and Lynn Harris Medcalf started News Generation, Inc. in 1997. The company is proud to provide flexible work schedules for working mothers and fathers without hindering their advancement at the firm.


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