Top PR – A Man’s Game?

First Published by PR Week 9 October 2017 (

As an industry, PR is highly inclusive of women. Or so it seems. Women comprise 64 percent of the total workforce, yet only 13 percent inhabit board-level and partner positions. In an age where women occupy positions such as President of the Supreme Court, Police Commissioner and Prime Minister, why are the upper echelons of PR still perceived as unreachable for many?

Recently Spear’s published its ranking of Top Ten Reputation Managers for those who identify as High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs).  Remarkably, female PR advisors failed to feature at all – not only absent from the Top Ten but also from the subsequent list of 16 notable names.

In marked contrast, Spear’s featured two women in its ranking of Top Ten Wealth Managers, and scores of leading female lawyers across various legal disciplines. Yet the financial sector is notorious for its underrepresentation of women though the legal services profession has cottoned on to the value of women in law.

Perhaps the absence of Spear’s-rated women in PR results less from Spear’s own unconscious bias, but more from the conduct of female leaders in the PR industry.

I know many talented, savvy and highly commercial women who manage others’ reputations.  I don’t know if they specifically advise those of high net worth. Which reminds me of that old tease – how do you know if someone’s a vegan?  They tell you.  Perhaps the reason I haven’t learned whether my contemporaries are also up to their eyes in advising the spectacularly wealthy is that my female friends haven’t felt the need to flash their big swinging handbags to say so.  They get on with the job at hand, often too self-effacingly, and hope their efforts are respected.

It would be more worrying were the rankings to imply that HNWIs prefer to seek counsel from male PRs.  Is there a level of trust, man-to-man, that may not be as prevalent between a drippingly wealthy male and a female PR?  Do the less enlightened believe girly PRs are good for some things but when the serious stuff happens, it’s time to call in the boys?

I actually believe men and women are naturally less willing to show their vulnerabilities to the opposite sex in the work environment – the understanding of which is necessary to build the most watertight and appropriate argument in defence of reputation.

Undoubtedly, though, we women are accountable for our reticence to acknowledge our place in the higher echelons of PR.  After all, Spear’s compiled its rankings through recommendations of HNWIs and self-nomination. Studies indicate that the biggest career hurdles women in C-suite positions face, is self-promotion and expressing our talents. Or to put it more poignantly, women’s self-advocacy is seen as excessive in comparison to men’s. Women who self-promote or indeed achieve recognition are less likely to be liked. The dreadful trolling of Laura Kuenssberg is a case in point.

As with any industry, there are obvious hurdles for women in PR to overcome – company culture, avoidance of work-place conflict, stigma in discussing salaries, unconscious biases and lack of transparency. But come on girls, let’s channel our inner vegan: ditch the reticence and speak proudly of what we do, or the big jobs will forever be perceived as belonging to the boys!

Melanie Riley, carnivore & Bell Yard Founding Director

10 October 2017

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