By Shauna Nuckles
It’s no secret that the communications profession is made up predominantly of women. I’d like to think we’re forward-thinking innovators, too.
Given that, I’ve often wondered why our profession isn’t recognized as a trailblazer for supporting the evolving needs of professional women. From the countless conversations I’ve had with women about their struggles in public relations, I know many agree.
Here are five ways that PR teams of all types and sizes can take the lead to meet the needs of women in 2022 and beyond:
Ask what women need.
This is the simplest but most overlooked way to better understand women’s needs. Unfortunately, it’s also where the PR profession has fallen short in the past.
Even before the pandemic, a 2019 survey from PR Week revealed remote work was the top benefit all employees wanted. In 2019, 41 percent of companies offering flextime seemed like progress.
In the past two years, however, many of the practitioners I’ve spoken with felt infuriated that after years of asking and hearing “no” from their employers, the pandemic proved that more flexible schedules are possible for nearly everyone. COVID-19 also showed us that flextime is critical for women who typically carry the burden of most child care and household duties.
Tailor flextime to people’s individual needs.
Many business leaders are contemplating the future of remote work for their organizations. Rather than force all employees to fit one model for remote or hybrid work – reporting to the office two days per week, for example – organizations will fare better by offering them flexibility.
The needs of a single mother with school-age children are different than those of an employee caring for aging parents.
“My experience has been that when given a day to work from home, it was always the perk threatened to be taken away,” said Sarah Meyer, a PR strategist. “Women typically take on most household responsibilities, and I was personally not OK with my ability to do laundry one day a week while working from home being seen as something I needed to prove myself to maintain.”
Champion paid parental leave.
Millennials are in their prime years for starting and raising families. They also make up an estimated one-third of the U.S. workforce, Pew Research Center found in 2019.
In the past, my peers would suffer in silence after giving birth as they went back to work before they were ready. They’d juggle caring for an infant alone because their partner was unable to take paid time off. Or, they’d face the tough choice of whether they could (or wanted to) return to the office at all.
Today, women in public relations have more options. In recent years, dozens of my colleagues have started their own consultancies to better meet their needs as working mothers.
It’s becoming increasingly desirable and accessible to do so, as reflected in a recent survey from The Rosie Report that found more than 30 percent of marketers choosing solo careers.
Regardless of whether paid parental leave becomes national policy, organizations can choose to meet this crucial need for women. Otherwise, they risk losing access to a talent pool that might pursue other opportunities that better suit their lives.
Consider a transparent pay scale.
Pay inequity is still a top concern for women in all industries, especially for women of color. According to an report from the Economic Policy Institute, Black women in jobs critical to COVID-19 recovery earn 11 percent to 27 percent less than white men.
Studies suggest that if we stay on this trajectory, the United States won’t reach pay equity until 2059. I hope my colleagues agree this is unacceptable.
To make a meaningful shift, we need radical transparency. Organizations can start by publicly sharing salaries and creating pay scales with clear guidelines on how employees can achieve raises and promotions, instead of leaving pay equality up to chance.
Help reduce burnout.
After two years of uncertainty during the pandemic, job burnout is at an all-time high. According to McKinsey & Company, women are more burned-out than men, especially those who manage teams.
My company works with many PR organizations, and we see that the sporadic “mental health day” is not keeping burnout away. It’s time to take drastic measures to revive depleted team members. Organizations can implement a sabbatical program, switch to a four-day workweek or hire assistants for managers.
Public relations is an innovative profession, but we still have room for improvement when it comes to meeting the evolving needs of our workforce. However, I believe that if each of us chooses to focus on the ideas above, we will improve the careers of women in communications for years to come.
Shauna Nuckles is the founder of Advocation, an Austin, Texas-based training faceflow ervaring company for PR agency teams. The company’s mission is to destress the PR profession. It does so by providing strategic operations support and team-training customized to the needs of PR agencies.