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Closing the Gender Gap in the Communications Industry

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I’ve spent almost my entire career working in male-dominated industries. Journalism, where I worked as a print reporter for nearly a decade, is nearly 2/3 male from top to bottom, with the ranks of editors and leadership even more dude-heavy.

In 2009, I switched to a career in politics. One in five members of Congress is a woman, and the pay gap between male and female staffers on Capitol Hill, where I worked for three years, is almost $6,000.

So. When I accepted an offer from my friend and mentor to help build his new communications firm, I was excited to take a leadership role in an industry where somewhere between 60-85 percent of professionals are women. (I was coming off a two-year stint at a progressive think tank where powerful women leaders were the refreshing norm and straight white dudes.)

But, like many feminized professions, the public relations profession has a dirty little secret. While the rank and file is 2/3 women, leadership of global PR firms is 2/3 male. And what’s worse, the median woman working in the public relations industry makes 67 cents on the dollar compared to the median man.

Take a stroll through the “About Us” pages on the top New York and DC communications firms and this phenomenon will come into focus. While there are certainly some crazy talented women working in and leading this industry, we have to do more to elevate women to leadership roles in every profession, but especially in the professions where they make up the bulk of the workforce.

So what’s the solution? Setting “smash the patriarchy” aside for a second, entrepreneurship and mentorship are the keys to making communications industry leadership reflective of the people who work in it. Statistics show that women tend to take leadership roles in PR at small firms they’ve founded or help build, like the one where I work. If the boys won’t let you help run their sandbox, build your own.

But, at large and small firms alike, it’s also critical that leadership encourages and fosters the talent of young female hustlers – not just because it’s good for women in the industry, but because having women in the boardroom and the leadership suite is also good for the bottom line.

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