The Chartered Institute of PR’s 2013/14 State of the Profession survey revealed startling facts about the gender gap in PR. The headline statistic was the £12k pay differential of men over women. This is shocking enough on its own, but downright criminal when put against the backdrop that the PR profession is over 60% female.
The CIPR has quite rightly jumped to attention and is putting initiatives in place to help counter the balance. Last month they published a package to support PR professionals through maternity leave and returning to work, and earlier this month they released recommendations for flexible working in PR.
Earlier this year, CIPR Board member, Sarah Hall, ran a #CIPRChat which I took part in, and unfortunately I was not alone in how I was treated at work after I had my son and wanted to continue with my career. I was PR Manager at a trade association when I went on 6 months maternity leave in 2000 and was fortunate to return to work in a promoted position as Head of Communications with a seat on the board. I continued in this role full-time for another three years until the logistics became untenable and during this time was the lowest renumerated board member.
As I have met more and more mums, in and out of the PR profession, a common theme has emerged – only a minority are still following the same career as they had in LBC (Life Before Children). A few are still doing the same job full-time, a few more have carried on part-time, whereas most have taken a career break or had a complete career change so they can accommodate family life. For example,
- finance officer for local government retrained as a teacher
- exhibitions manager retrained in social care
- journalist to PR and author
- marketing account director to teaching assistant
In quite a few cases, it is not practical or possible to continue with the career you have trained for and built up, whether for logistical, working hours, financial, etc. reasons. When talking to my mum-friends, we don’t generally talk about LBC, but when this occasionally comes up I am staggered at the amount of talent and experience not being utilised and that employers have lost.
I have two hypotheses:
- Employers do not provide an environment that retains staff
When I returned from maternity leave, my employer gave me limited flexibility in terms of allowing me to leave early each day to do the nursery pick-up (my husband’s employer allowed him to start later – and finish later – to accommodate the morning nursery drop-off). However, to manage my workload I went in earlier every day to compensate and still worked more hours than I was contracted. Going part-time or a job share was not an option. My employer did not provide an environment that made it attractive or practical for me to stay so they lost me, my skills and corporate memory bank. I found the right environment for me, which was to go freelance. Not everyone has a career that allows them to work for themselves, so businesses lose staff and skills if they do not try and retain them. This makes no business sense.
2. Companies place no importance on their talent funnel
As a marketer I am familiar with the sales funnel – lots of enquiries in at the top which are then subject to various bits of marketing ‘attention’ before being pushed through the funnel as sales at the bottom. With the talent funnel, companies put staff in at the top, invest in them in terms of recruitment costs, salary, benefits and training, after which the employees get squeezed out. Do companies see these people as natural wastage to allow for fresh talent to come through, or a waste of resource that is detrimental to the company. Even with my limited straw poll within my network it is evident there is an abundance of talent that is not being utilised, purely because employers are not providing an environment to retain staff.
So what is the solution?
There is no quick fix as for many businesses it will take a mindset change of massive proportions. I do not believe that the world owes anyone a living, more that each of us is responsible for finding the living that fits you. However, I do believe that some companies shoot themselves in the foot and could be more accommodating – some are – without it being detrimental to the business. It just takes thought and consideration from both employer and employee.
The work the CIPR has already done in its guide to flexible working in public relations shows that companies can achieve a balance that benefits all – as the case studies show (download a pdf copy of the guide – I am one of the case studies on pages 26 and 27).
I am standing for election to CIPR Council and pledge to work with them to achieve more success in helping bridge the gender gap. It is not just about pay differential, until men and women are treated fairly and equally in the workplace when it comes to work-life balance, there will always be people who cannot carry on with their chosen career because their employer does not make it possible. Who loses out the most? I am on the side that inflexibility by employers makes for bad business sense. How about you?