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This is a guest post by Alison Kenney.

I started thinking about this blog post quite awhile ago, well before Anne Marie Slaughter’s article on Why Women Can’t Have it All appeared in The Atlantic. I think Slaughter’s argument is fascinating (and seemingly never-ending), but I’d like to focus on something she, and many other people recently, have pointed out: that there are fewer women than men at the top rungs of corporate management.

This is fairly obvious in PR – you can literally see the inequity if you were to page through a recent issue of PR Week that features photos of the CEOs of the nation’s top PR firms. But what is striking is that, unlike other industries with a large number of male CEOs, PR is a predominately female profession:  seventy percent of all PR professionals are female.

I don’t have an answer, or really even a speculation about why there are so few female CEOs in an industry that is dominated by female talent.

In addition to Slaughter, several champions of women’s rights have commented on the lack of women leaders:

In his Harvard Business Review blog post on Why Boards Need More Women, Yilmaz Arguden wrote: “While most CEOs recognize the importance of appointing directors of different ages and with different kinds of educational backgrounds and functional expertise, they tend to underestimate the benefits of gender diversity…When Fortune-500 companies were ranked by the number of women directors on their boards, those in the highest quartile in 2009 reported a 42% greater return on sales and a 53% higher return on equity than the rest…Experts believe that companies with women directors deal more effectively with risk. Not only do they better address the concerns of customers, employees, shareholders, and the local community, but also, they tend to focus on long-term priorities. Women directors are likely to be more in tune with women’s needs than men, which helps develop successful products and services. After all, women drive 70% of purchase decisions by consumers in the European Union and 80% of them in the United States.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO has said, “Women are not making it to the top. A hundred and ninety heads of state; nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, thirteen per cent are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top – C-level jobs, board seats – tops out at fifteen, sixteen per cent.”

Betsy Myers, a former senior official in the Clinton Administration and authority on leadership, says, “Women are no longer an interest group. Women are 52 percent of the population, a majority in the workforce. Companies that have more women in top positions, and more women on boards, are more profitable…Despite advances for women in the workplace, many of the statistics are discouraging. Only 3.6 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs, and women hold only about 14 percent of senior management positions within those companies. Despite the fact that more women than men are earning college degrees, and that women continue to make the bulk of buying decisions, corporate America has been slow to reflect that in its leadership ranks.”

Myers, and others, are forging some innovative practices for helping women achieve leadership positions:

Bentley president Gloria Larson launched the Center for Women and Business a year ago and has brought Myers on as its CEO. A recent Boston Globe article reported that the Center aims to advance women at all stages, from business-school students to upper management.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton founded the Women in Public Service Institute at her alma mater as Wellesley College. The institute is part of the Women in Public Service Project, founded by Clinton, the U.S. State Department, and the sister schools Wellesley, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke and Smith, with the goal of putting more women into political leadership positions around the world. Clinton says the numbers show a global politics in which the voices of women often go unheard. Women occupy less than 20% of seats in parliaments and legislatures around the world, she said. The goal of the institute is to bring that number up to 50% by 2050.

With these lofty examples in mind, I wonder what we can do in PR to encourage women to lead? Do you know of any leadership programs that encourage women in our industry?

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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