Addressing the issue of gender inequality in PR

Jennifer Lawrence sure made headlines with her essay on Hollywood sexism. Breaking her silence on the issue, she finally expressed that she was finished with being ‘adorable’ about the Hollywood pay gap.

We revisit the age old problem of gender inequality in the workplace – women tend to be judged when they ask for pay increments – something even mega movie stars are affected by.

In an industry dominated by women, it’s worth evaluating any possible gender wage gaps in the public relations field (and making it known – as we would with our key messages).

Is there a gender wage gap in PR?

A 2014 Salary Survey produced by PublicAffairsAsia and The Research Pacific Group, which polled mostly senior public affairs and corporate communications executives in Asia Pacific, found a significant gender pay disparity across much of the region. The report found that men earn 36% more than women in PR.

Of course, we can’t just take one report at face value.

So let’s look at another piece of research – font’s Market Pulse 2014/2015 report showed more Singapore women than men received a pay rise in the last 12 months. However, over an extended period of time, women’s pay raises fall behind. The same company’s 2013 report also showed the median female salary in the marketing, communications, public relations and events field was 36 per cent lower than men in the same sector.

Is there a gender leadership gap in PR?

Perhaps pay is not everything, one might argue.

So what about women in leadership positions in the Public Relations industry? According to data from various studies, while women make up majority of the PR workforce, they only hold about 30%  of the top positions in the industry.

Looks like it’s a double whammy for us women in PR. We get paid less for the same job scope and we do not, generally speaking, hold leadership positions.

Before you think this is leading to a tragic end, I do think the situation is improving as more women become increasingly vocal about their rights. Take Lawrence for example.

Focusing on what is within our control

Writing this opinion piece sure made me wonder if my male counterpart, sitting diagonally from me, is earning more than I do with the same job scope. However, why would I want to make speculations on the “maybe-s” and the “possibly-s”, when I would rather focus on what is within my control.

Without repeating what has already been discussed in the gender equality rhetoric, I would suggest the following ways to combat gender inequality in the PR industry:

  1. Be extremely good at what you do

This is a no-brainer and should be our fundamental attitude towards work. If we are exceedingly competent in what we do, our bosses will pay attention to what we have to say.

For example, an account director in a PR agency might have an annual new business target of $200,000 to meet. Instead of just meeting your targets, you bring in double the amount. The numbers don’t lie.

If you are an in-house communications executive tasked with organising a media event with a target of 10 journalists, but succeed in securing 20 journalists including the regional top tier media, the results don’t lie.

I’m quoting simplistic examples, but you get my drift. Do what you do remarkably well.

Take Jennifer Lawrence for example. Some might say the media is paying attention to what she has to say on gender wage gap issues because she is a celebrity. But I put forth a simple argument – Lawrence is not just any other actress – she is a damn good one (two Oscars and counting at the age of 25). And for that, she earns the right to speak and to be heard.

  1. Understand the influence of your skill sets

As PR professionals, we are equipped with an amazing array of skillsets to develop compelling messages, conceptualise and execute impactful campaigns for brands or our clients’ brands. We put out stories that help to change consumer/public behaviour – and we can use that very skillset to make a change in the industry.

We need to recognise that we are highly effective communicators and channels of influence.

So if you witness gender inequality in your workplaces, you have the influence to make it known. By that, I don’t mean write to the papers and complain about your company. But you can start conversations by identifying issues and providing solutions – by convincing the stakeholders with persuasive arguments that you put forth, whether through your writing or presentation.

I certainly look forward to the maturing of the PR industry in the years to come, where women hold more leadership positions and are equally remunerated for their work as compared to their male counterparts. But before utopia is reached, we can and should be game changers in our respective workplaces. And you don’t have to be the top honcho to effect that change.

The writer is Jacintha Ng, associate account director at The Hoffman Agency Singapore.

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