Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Women Practitioners: How Far, How Fast?

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Women Practitioners: How Far, How Fast?

Article excerpt

Women Practitioners: How Far, How Fast?

In 1978, Business Week identified a trend toward organizations filling public relations jobs with women to help them meet affirmative action requirements--in the process coining the unsettling term "Velvet Ghetto" and raising questions within the field.

Few would dispute that public relations' on-going efforts and strides toward greater visibility and status within the business community and society as a whole are the central concerns of the field today. In that context, as ever-growing numbers of women have entered public relations during the past two decades, their status within it has increasingly come to be intertwined with the larger issue of the field's overall progression. Judging from informal interviews conducted with 30 high-level male and female public relations executives for this article, there is little disagreement that women in the field have made great progress, particularly in recent years. In fact, many express the view that public relations has attracted so many women precisely because it has proven to be uncommonly rich in opportunities for women and men.

Still, as the profession monitors itself during this period of extremely rapid growth and change, certain questions and concerns regarding women's status continue to be discussed. Do women, who now comprise at least half of the profession, nevertheless face salary and status obstacles? If there really is a "glass ceiling" for women, is it in part of their own making? Will a "feminization" of public relations lead to lower salaries and status for the field as a whole, as it has in other heavily female sectors?

The basic issues are, of course, extremely complex and of major significance not only to this field, but to the work force and society as a whole. Increased attention to the roles of women in business and to parental issues in the general media and in business publications in particular seem to reflect business' emerging awareness that employee demographics are radically changing. According to researchers, by the year 2000, more than 80 percent of people entering the work force will be women, minorities and immigrants. And, Business Week recently reported that, among new graduates, women now account for 13 percent of all engineers, 39 percent of all lawyers and 31 percent of all MBAs.

Many of the answers to questions about how these trends will affect business will come from public relations, journalism and other professional segments that have seen the greatest influx of women in recent years.

'No ground swell'

Some contend that, given the stakes for men and women alike, there has been relatively little organized action addressed toward these issues. Does this imply apathy on the part of women, men, or both?

Elizabeth Lance Toth, APR, assistant professor of public relations at Southern Methodist University, was one of four authors of the "Velvet Ghetto" study, funded by the International Association of Business Communicators Foundation, which caused a good amount of controversy when it first appeared in 1986. Toth now says that, when she and her co-authors speak to public relations groups on the subject, as they often do, "the reaction is basically, 'go away.'" But she attributes this less to apathy than to other reasons. "They're supportive enough, I suppose, but people seem to view this as a frustrating problem that they can't fix."

Then too, very recently, there was the national controversy over the Harvard Business Review article by Felice N. Schwartz of Catalyst, a non profit management research/advisory group. Her premise--that companies should identify and clear a way to the top for "career-primary" women, while making it possible (through job-sharing and other methods) for women with children to choose to stay in middle management--was quickly labelled "The Mommy Track" and condemned by many, including some female public relations executives. …

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