Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"The Pink Ghetto"

Old timers in the PR game may recall an unfortunate (but thankfully, rarely used) description of our industry as "The Pink Ghetto." This moniker was meant to imply that PR was a tradecraft made up mostly of women, who had little prospect of making the big dough.

Take a look around most PR firms' cubelands. It's true - there are a lot of women in the ranks. Now look at the top ranks. Mostly men (with notable exceptions at Horn Group, etc.). Why?

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of women in PR, specifically mothers. One of our top staffers recently had a baby, and now she is debating whether to come back. I think she probably will, but, she would certainly not be the first highly talented and motivated woman to decide to stay home. On the one hand it is a loss - for us, for her clients and for her bright career prospects - but as a father of course I understand and admire this down-shifting.

PR seems to be a very rough career for someone who wants to spend time at home with the kids and have a fulfilling job. One of our part-timers is a dedicated PR pro and a dedicated mom. She works "part time" but it is no secret that she is checking email and responding to client questions long after she has officially clocked out. We frown on this but it's hard to de-motivate the highly motivated professional. And frankly, her clients appreciate it.

So my question is: is PR a job that can be done part time? Does the need to constantly stay ahead of your clients (and team members) necessitate full time work? What does that mean for women in today's Y Generation, who don’t necessarily want a full time career when they have children - but also don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom?

There have been several articles in the NYT lately about the slowing growth of women in the workforce. Will this have a drastic effect on PR down the line? Sure, there will always be a fresh crop of ACs that graduate into the workforce every year. But where will the senior level women be?

Is this why, for the most part, even in today's enlightened society, PR agencies are run by men?

I recently queried the staff for ideas for the blog; this one about women/career growth came from one of our best-and-brightest. She noted in her email that she'd be very curious to read my "answers" to her tough questions. Unfortunately - I don't have the answers. I've seen part-timers that thrive, and fail; and I've met women who "gave up" on motherhood (or so it felt to them), only to regret it later. Or not.

I do know that PR is a rigorous, intellectual, exasperating and exciting craft...which is probably why so many women do so well here in the first place. Whether an expectant mom feels she can keep up with the unceasing flow of work (on both ends of her lifestyle, personal & professional) is something that, to me, feels like an individual answer.


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December 19, 2005  
Blogger LifeHunter said...

I don't know about most PR agencies being run by men. There are many with men's names on the door (the old Weber, Schwartz, Greenough, the old Sterling Hager, etc.) but when you look just below the president, 7 times out of 10, the top executives in the company are women.

As for motherhood and PR. I think being a mother while working full time in an agency environment is very, very hard to do. I would venture to say that it's next to impossible to do both sucessfully. It's much more common to find high-level female PR pros with children working on the corporate side. I have found that some - not all - agencies do not truly embrace the work/life balance equation although they talk about it a lot. Those are also the ones that put 24 year olds on the road with clients before they even know how to write a press release let alone speak cogently to the media. Those same agencies also see the most turnover in the industry.

Agencies - again, in general - are still training grounds for moving-on to corporate jobs. But only for the truly talented; good corporate jobs are far from plentiful. From my experience, most agencies still cater to the young and hungry crowd - and most burn and turn the very people that spend their 20s working 80 hours weeks just to get to the corporate holy grail. Only by then, they're faced with the "children or career" question...and let's face it, you can't have both when the children are young.

Only the truly special agencies are able to foster long-term success with their high-level women employees that want kids and their careers.

December 19, 2005  

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