Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

The Experiences of Women in a Public Relations Firm: A Phenomenological Explication

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

The Experiences of Women in a Public Relations Firm: A Phenomenological Explication

Article excerpt

The number of women entering the workforce has increased over the past several decades resulting in women making up 43% of the civilian workforce in 1990. In addition, every two out of three new workers entering the workforce are women (Carnevale & Stone, 1995). Although there is now a workforce of over 56 million female workers (Barry, 1994), and despite the fact that today's young women are promised a "future that will be very different from the adulthood experiences of their mother's and grandmother's" (Stromberg & Harkess, 1988, p. 1), it is widely recognized that women are discriminated against in the world of work (Blank & Slipp, 1994; Carnevale & Stone, 1995; Cline, Toth, Turk, Walters, Johnson, & Smith, 1986; Grossman & Chester, 1990; Petras & Petras, 1993; Stromberg & Harkess, 1988; Tannen, 1994; Toth, 1988). This discrimination takes many forms, but most importantly, women receive significantly lower salaries, fail to progress to the upper levels of corporate and organizational management, achieve lower organizational status and power than do their male counterparts, and face limited employment opportunities in nontraditional female occupations.

One male-dominated profession which has had to confront the issue of discrimination against women in the workforce is public relations (Joseph, 1985). The public relations profession has undergone a significant demographic change in the last 20 years. It is estimated that nearly 60% or more of the public relations workforce is women (Lukovitz, 1989; Toth & Grunig, 1993), and this is likely to increase due to the fact that the vast majority of students enrolled in public relations classes are women (Becker, 1991; Cline, 1989).

The increase in the number of women in public relations has led to a fierce debate over the feminization of the profession. This debate has led researchers to investigate the effects and consequences of the feminization of public relations while trying to identify and label the roles and functions women perform in public relations (Broom & Dozier, 1986; Cline et al., 1986; Dozier, 1983; Dozier, 1992; Toth & Cline, 1989; Toth & Grunig, 1993).

Toth and Grunig (1993) argue that the majority of public relations research has focused on the examination of two previously identified roles in public relations - the managerial and the technical (Dozier, 1983; Dozier, 1992). There can be little doubt that such research has been successful in charting the roles women perform and the discrimination that they face as a consequence in public relations. However, research which focuses on the role dichotomy within public relations may now be dated because "as the nature of public relations has changed, so have the activities carried out by public relations practitioners" (Toth & Grunig, 1993, p. 156). Therefore, there is a need to re-examine public relations from different perspectives. Indeed, Toth and Grunig (1993) call for a "shift in our study of public relations activities" (p. 156). The research presented in this paper attempts to offer such a shift by utilizing a phenomenological perspective to examine the role and experiences of women in public relations.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to gain a greater understanding of the daily work experiences of female public relations practitioners. Although findings generated through the use of government census bureau data and large social science surveys have provided insights into some of the difficulties women are facing when entering public relations, the true meaning and experience of being a women in public relations has not been fully explored. This study aims to gain a greater understanding of the realities of being a woman in public relations by investigating the meanings women themselves assign to their own experiences. The primary research question for this study is: How do women practitioners in public relations perceive and describe their experiences in their work? …

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