Sunday, March 14, 2010

The gender debate in public relations

A discussion on one of the subjects in public relations, was thrown open on a PR forum I m attached to, that "Despite the abundance of women in the PR profession why dont we see them in positions higher up?"As an academician I can give a preview on some researched data from all over the world as put forth by Larissa Grunig, Mary Ann Fergusan, Linda Childers Hon, Elizabeth L. Toth,K.Sriramesh in their work on this subject.
They have commented using the work of many other researchers in this subject. Lauzen (1990a)explains that there many variables such as gender of the practitioner, years of experience, practitioner competencies, and role that would be a deciding factor for non-public relations professional to manage the public relations function.She terms it "professional encroachment". Lauzen who based her studies on Broom's findings proposes that though women may want to advance in management positions, they may encounter roadblocks by organisations who fill these positions with others who seem more suitable for these posts. Thus they hit the very notorious glass ceiling!
Levine (1990) says that though men may have higher levels of aggressiveness that does not make them more suitable for management and leadership positions. Male traits are more congruent with high-level posts because most organizations have been and continue to be ruled by men ( "A Double Edge,"1990).
Further research shows that both women and men desire to reach top positions in public relations ( Creedon, 1989; DeRosa & Wilcox, 1989) but biological differences like differences in levels of aggressiveness sometimes are coupled with differential socialization for women and men can become impediments. It has been found that women display lower levels of job involvement, or the degree to which one's work is considered an important part of one's life ( Lodahl & Kejner, 1965; Reitz & Jewell, 1979; Ruh, White, & Wood, 1975).
Another point here is risk taking. Some women may avoid jeopardizing their security (Slovik, 1966). The precursor to this risk avoidance is an "ambivalence many women feel regarding their careers" ( Cline et al., 1986, pp. 1-7). Some women do not view themselves as primary wage earners but see work as a "temporary haven before marriage" ( Simpson & Simpson, 1969, pp. 196-197). They thus stay clear of the inherently risky task-oriented rewards of "challenge" and "responsibility". This does not go without being crticised. For example, Ryan (quoted in Lukovitz, 1989) argued: "Contending that women aspire to be technicians is horrendously akin to blaming the victim. All the women I know perceive themselves as far transcending the roles they are obliged to occupy" (p. 20 ). For her, women's lower status in public relations is not of their own doing. Instead, women's subjugation is a result of the "corporate, male-dominated world that continues not to pay or promote women as it does men" (p. 20 ).
Broom and Dozier ( 1986) provided evidence, however, that women face more difficulty advancing from the technician role than men with similar years of experience. A technician is somebody who --writes, edits, designs visual messages, and works with the media. Emphasis is on communication and journalistic skills whereas an expert prescriber is viewed by top management of the client or organization for which she or he works as an authority on public relations problems and their solutions. Such a practitioner defines and researches problems, develops programs, and takes major responsibility for implementation.
It is a strange irony. The tendencies of some women are stereotyped as attributes of all women. This, in turn, results in many women being sent the role expectations of technicians. Their routine tasks reinforce any such propensities of low involvement. This is reinforced further by the clearly perceived lower status and pay of technicians.
Another obstacle faced by women has to do with greater difficulty in creating a persona, or public image, that is congruent with that of high power positions ( Conrad, 1985). Because this persona was defined by men and continues to be enacted for the most part by men, it reflects male values -- values that often differ from women's. And, if others in the organization perceive women to be lacking in the traditional characteristics that suggest power, then they are. On this point, Kasten ( 1986) noted: "Power is a funny thing -- it's primarily a matter of perception. If you have power but I don't think so, then you don't really have it. If you don't really have power but I think you do, then you do" (p. 132 ). As Moore ( 1986) reported, women perceive a more progressive climate in organizations that already employ a reasonable number of women.
Women's lack of organizational power also may have its roots from the fact; shortage of support from home and society in general. Family concerns may hinder some women because women continue to do more than their share of home maintenance activities in addition to pursuing careers ( Heins, Smock, Jacobs, & Stein, 1976; Hochschild, 1989). And, as Kahn-Hut, Daniels, and Coward ( 1982) pointed out, "Professional ideologies depict work as 'a calling' that requires round-the-clock devotion to work. This devotion is a primary allegiance that conflicts with the cultural mandate of women's primary responsibility to family" (p. 38 ).
Sriramesh (1992) said that initially women worked in the service sector such as the travel and tourism because of the glamour stereotype. Infact in books written then by male practitioners, the PRO is referred to as the PR man! But now things have changed and more women are entering this profession many are slowly moving to management positions.
We have come a long way from the data that is cited here, but the glass ceiling still exists for women even today.So what according to you has not changed?


  1. I feel Women in PR are doing well till their 40's. Their commitment to family prevents them from frequent travels and stretched working hours. Here men take the advantage.
    We see lot of men working in PR firms after retiring from other jobs. But do we see or are we accepting any elderly women in the PR desk?
    Hence it might take one or two decades to see more PR women at the top level.

  2. Sorry MR C.R.Jayaprakesh
    But i don't agree with, what you said.
    There are woman's on top level(PR). We can make it out from the current scenario of woman's bill in parliament, how it is opposed. Thus similar case happens in PR field too.When this field becomes feminized, moreover, female and male practitioners alike confront the prospect of dwindling salaries and prestige happens. So this might be the reason And the challenges faced by the females.

  3. A lot will depend on:
    1. How women percieve the glass ceiling - as a challenge or as a hindrance.
    2. How women build up their image in an organisation. It's a difficult task to be perceived as firm, assertive and authoritative rather than a nag or a b***h.
    3. Whether men will be able to accept the change. After all it's been 'their' domain all these years.
    4. Whether women will be able to treat men and clients as their equals and not allow themselves be intimidated by them.
    5. Lastly, whether women will be able to do what men do and not say "This is a man's job".

    Let me be clear that I don't mean ANYTHING more than what I have said. I hope whoever reads this gets the point.

  4. Thats quite a food for thought from all of you thanks, such issues normally spark a debate! This requires a more formal study to understand all perspectives better.

  5. Hey meenakshi...what about indian researches and ones done post-1995 as world is a different place post-1991. Also am little worried about some of the lines you use as there are ample public examples of women having "persona/public image" "organisational power"..Be careful you are getting into a debate needing much more analysis then simplistic compilation!
    P.S.: am not able to post this as a comment so sending you this mail!

    from Mira Desai:

  6. Hi Mira,

    Thanks for your input.This issue got me interested after the topic got initiated at the PR forum, I have so far been able to look into this keeping in mind research done only in the field of public relations and women working in it.That was the topic the discussion began on.You are right it is old, so would still try and look into it or probably would like to conduct a small research myself with respect to women working in PR.

    Honestly thanks for your feedback.