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Is PR a Good Profession for Parents?

This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

Advances in communication technologies, increases in virtual offices and the prevalence of flexible (round-the-clock?) schedules make it possible to balance the work with personal demands in life.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since listening to Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk about why we have too few women leaders and also since I’ve been approached by more than a couple of younger female PR professionals who want to know how they can prepare for work life when they start a family. (Having just crossed a milestone birthday and with a child in double-digits I guess I’m now a Buddha of sorts when it comes to work-life balance. Yikes.)

Sheryl Sandberg’s argument is compelling, made more so by her delivery and her backstory. (She went from being Larry Summers’ research assistant at the World Bank to being his Chief of Staff at the U.S. Treasury, became vice president at Google and is now COO at Facebook.) In her version of Women’s Lib, our daughters will have a chance not only to succeed but to be admired for having done so. To get to that day, she urges women to “take a seat at the table, make their partner a real partner and to not leave before you leave.”

Her argument is being heard in other industries too. In a NY Times editorial Dr. Karen Sibert argued that women who “want to be doctors should be doctors [and not get enter the profession looking for work-life balance].” Conversely, a colleague, Dr. Suzanne Koven, argues in response that maternity leaves and part-time hours aren’t just women’s issues and believes that Sibert’s “just say yes” approach risks discouraging women from pursuing careers in medicine.

Public Relations is similar to the medical profession in some ways. Our work is service-driven and we often work in response to the needs of our clients, which can include internal corporate clients. PR opportunities and crises can arise at any time. For these reasons, PR work can involve long hours and lots of stress. (Of course, our actions don’t typically result in life or death consequences.) Scaling back on clients or type of projects can make for a friendlier work-life balance, but could harm future career opportunities.

Since roughly 70 percent of PR professionals are women, many of us will or have had to deal with the mommy question. Many moms go on to have very successful careers in PR. Some heed Sandberg’s and Sibert’s advice and go “all in.” Others shape their work around their personal needs and schedules.

The answer, of course, is that there’s no one way to do things. Honestly, there’s no single definition for success either. Personally there are days when I think the answer is to just keep trying.

In that vein, here are a few of my picks for career advice for anyone who is trying to balance a PR career with their role as a parent:

What do you think? Is PR a good profession for working parents? What’s your advice for making it work?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on LindsayOlson.com. You can find her at www.kprcommunications.com. Learn more about Alison Kenney.

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