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Women in Communication: The Elephant in the Room

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    There’s an elephant in the room screaming for attention. Women dominate the communication profession, except at the executive table where men continue to rule. Not much has changed since the IABC Research Foundation released The Velvet Ghetto 32 years ago. The report concluded that the communication profession “is in danger of going the way of teaching, nursing and library science, fields with lower pay and prestige than professions with comparable skills and education simply because the jobs are held predominantly by women.”

    After 32 years, you’d think we’d have made progress. Sadly, in most parts of the world, that’s not the case. Women in the communication profession still have a long road to travel.

    In 2014, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) surveyed over 2,500 professionals in the United Kingdom and published their State of the Profession survey. The results are consistent. Women in the communication profession continue to be paid less than men for doing comparable work, and the more senior the role the greater the difference in salary.

    In 2017, Cone Communication reported that the communication profession is “dominated by more than 70 percent women and yet we still struggle with gender pay parity and a lack of women in our senior management ranks. We’re more similar to the tech industry in our inability to attract and retain racially and ethnically diverse talent than we care to admit. All the listening sessionssurveys and studies bear out that we are failing.”

    If there was any doubt

    In February of this year Ellwood Atfield conducted an in-depth survey with more than 300 public affairs professionals working in Brussels and around Europe. They found that in the most senior roles women on average earn 7 percent less than men. In middle management women earn 3.5 percent less than their male colleagues.

    Analysis of the remuneration of more than people leading the communication function found that €147,800 (US $182,067) is the average basic salary for men, while for women the average salary is €124,100 (US $152,872) or 16 percent less. Men occupy around 70 percent of the most senior positions.

    Then there’s China where “women hold up half the sky.”

    In advertising and public relations, China rises above all other countries in gender equity. Women hold the top jobs at 20 leading agencies including BBDO, BBH, Carat, Cheil, Dentsu Aegis Network, Leo Burnett, Mindshare, OMD, PHD and Publicis Media. Gender equality came during the cultural revolution of 1949 when it became widespread. “Women Hold Up Half The Sky,” is a proclamation made by Mao Zedong, to prove that women are valuable professionals. Read the full article.

    While gender equity is a long-standing issue in the communication profession, it reaches far beyond one industry and one profession. In their 2017 Global Gender Gap report, the World Economic Forum concluded that gender parity is over 200 years away. This shocking number flies in the face of common sense.

    The Pew Research Center found that forty percent of today’s global workforce are female, yet only five percent of global CEO positions are held by women. Price Waterhouse Cooper interviewed nearly 10,000 female millennials across all industries. Some 43 percent said employers favor men when it comes to promotions, and 71% said that while organizations talk about diversity, they don’t feel there’s equal opportunity.

    The Power of Parity, a 2015 study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth, or 11 percent in annual 2025 GDP. If women and men played an identical role in labor markets, as much as $28 trillion or 26 percent could be added to the global annual GDP by 2025. This adds up to an unprecedented opportunity to make a difference.

    March 8 of every year is marked by the United Nations as International Women’s Day, a day recognizes the equality of women around the world. It’s also a day when the communication profession can come together to stand and be counted among those who champion gender parity and women’s empowerment.

    Fueled by global movements like #MeToo#TimesUp  #YoTambien#QuellaVoltaChe#BalanceTonPorc#Ana_kaman#Ni Una Menos and many others, this year’s theme is Press for Progress.

    Worldwide people are mobilizing for equality. We cannot be complacent. We encourage you to learn more and get involved.

    We salute the women of communication, today and every day! Thank you for your dedication, commitment to making a difference through the power of communication. It’s time to move beyond the velvet ghetto and model diversity and inclusion at every level of our profession.

    About The Author

    Claire Watson
    Claire Watson consults to global, provincial and national companies on their communication needs. Her expertise encompasses research and measurement, internal and change communication, branding, marketing, public and community relations, advocacy and corporate social responsibility. She has taught extension classes for the University of Regina and developed unique training courses for the Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence. She holds 33 international and 150+ national and provincial Awards of Excellence. In addition, she has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from IABC Regina, Master Communicator designation from IABC Canada and the IABC Chairman’s Award for leadership in the profession.
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