The public relations corporate communications program at Seneca College invited Linda Andross and Diane Bégin to their Women in PR event on April 5, 2017 to explore the role of women in the public relations field based on their respective backgrounds. Here are their thoughts.
What was your experience as a woman in PR?
- “My journey started with a Business Administration Certificate in Marketing from NAIT, before I secured a job with a national small business organization called the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. My job was both government relations and public relations for about 8 years as I worked as a lobbyist there and with the Chambers of Commerce. In that time I also completed a Bachelor of Management from the University of Lethbridge and then later a Master of Arts in Communications and Technology from the University of Alberta and Accreditation in Public Relations from the Canadian Public Relations Society while I worked in the public and private sector. It was only when I moved to Toronto 6 years ago that I started working in an agency setting and teaching digital and social media.” DB
- “I went to Ryerson for the Radio and Television program and then started in advertising which was very male dominated. Thankfully a chance encounter with a woman on the TTC (yes it does pay to talk to people on the TTC!) led me to my first PR agency gig. I have been so fortunate that in the early PR years the agencies I worked at were all run by women who were amazing. So smart and talented and yes probably considered bossy but they ruled! Everything I am today I owe to those women who pushed me.” LA
What does the future have in store for women in PR?
- “The reality is that PR (including all aspects from digital/social to media relations in both agency and client-side environments) is incredibly competitive. Census data from 2011 has 74,135 individuals in advertising, marketing and public relations. The reality is that PR programs in Canada alone graduate thousands of positions each year, but there aren’t as many new jobs. Still, those who make an effort to stand out will get really challenging and rewarding jobs that will continue to evolve as they do within the profession. The Canadian Public Relations Society as one example has about a 60/40 split of women/men members. These types of individuals who get very actively involved are the individuals we target for jobs within the profession – individuals who go well above and beyond to get stuff done.” DB
- “Well what I hope we’ll see more of is women who want to run their own businesses – be that on their own or even within the agencies that they work. Women who want to have a seat at the table of their own organizations and input into the day-to-day operations. I will sometimes say that I hope someone wants my job someday (but not too soon!). With PR evolving so much I think there is a great opportunity for women to take on more leadership roles across all the areas of communications. But they have to just do it, no one will ever ask you. Ever.” LA
Are you affected by negative stereotypes associated with women in leadership positions?
- “That’s a really interesting question. I remember years ago when I was working in GR/PR a woman president of the volunteer board of our organization was telling us how she had to work incredibly hard to excel in what she considered to be a “boys club.” The woman was around my parents’ age and I remember thinking as she was talking, wow, that’s not even a thing in my life. Whether by naivety, luck or both, until that point it never occurred to me to think that I was at a disadvantage in any way in the workplace. I am forever grateful for the women who went before me to forge the path and am also glad it made me kind of clueless that I should actually worry about this being a thing.” DB
- “Does it happen, yes of course. My Managing Partner/Co-Owner is male and sometimes people assume he is the owner/boss. Do I let it affect me? No I don’t have time for that. I focus on what I bring to the table and by showing that I have a reason for being there. It bothers me that these stereotypes still exist in certain areas of PR that might have been traditionally more male dominated (such as crisis management).” LA
Is the “glass ceiling” phenomenon is still prevalent within the field?
- “Prevalent would mean widespread and at this point in 2017, I think it’s rarer and perhaps a more subconscious thing as opposed to an overt thing – at least in my experience in communications – that’s not to say that’s the case in all professions. Still, a subconscious learned behaviour can be a dangerous thing. As we continue as men and women in the profession to make it unacceptable to have a glass ceiling, we will get to the point where it will just seem ridiculous to ask this question at all.” DB
- “I think it still exists in some larger global agencies. I think the “glass ceiling” can also reflect a lot of things, not just leadership. Do women have pay equity across the board or are women who have kids treated the same as men who have kids (or for that fact what about men/women who chose not to have kids). No way. Would I be where I am today if I didn’t make certain choices that allowed to me to get over that ceiling? I’m not sure. I’m lucky that I have worked at APEX for a long time and I was able to make it for me, and hopefully for others, a place where we are all respected and valued for our contributions and provides opportunities for leadership and advancement.” LA
How are women coping with these challenges in order to achieve gender equality in the workplace?
- “It’s a given that we all have to be supportive of one another as women, but beyond that I personally have found great support from men in the profession, which is also a big part of it. The interesting thing is that PR as a profession was started by men, and it’s only in the last 30+ years that the momentum has been shifting to more women. One of my early mentors was Don Labelle, FCPRS, who became an advocate for me early on in my profession. When I’d met him, he’d already been in PR for 50 years. I’d interviewed him 8 years ago for some archival stuff, like the founding of CPRS Edmonton – at a time when there were only a handful of women involved. The thing is he saw individuals in the profession, as just that – individuals in the profession, without a gender bias. Personally I think because of this kind of support I received early on in my professional development (as well as the support of countless other men), I became somewhat blind to a gender bias. Quite frankly, that has served me well because I’ve never felt like I had to live up to someone else’s limits.” DB
- “I really think it depends on where you work. I think some women have resigned themselves to not having that gender equality because they know they’ll only move up so far. That their company will not provide them with the career development they need to move ahead into a more senior role. So they are just putting in time. I see some women leaving PR agency life and going client-side (or out all together) because they have a family and they feel they can’t be a senior person with kids and have any sort of balance. At the senior level you can see a bit of talent drain which saddens me. Younger women talk more about the issue and are more aware and unwilling to accept these limitations. That’s why you are having this panel right? Talking about it brings it into the light.” LA
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