By Claire Mason, CEO Man Bites Dog,
Last autumn I was given the opportunity to raise awareness of the Gender Say Gap – the invisibility of women and other diverse groups in business and in public life – with Influence readers and stress the critical role that the PR industry can play in helping to close it.
In light of disappointing recent reports that the gender pay gap has actually increased for four in ten private firms over the past 12 months, there is clearly still work to be done to redress the balance on inequality. And what better day to shine the spotlight onto the issue than International Women’s Day #balanceforbetter.
Public relations is an example of a profession and an industry where women have succeeded. There are so many inspiring female business leaders and agency owners, but let’s not forget that while women make up two-thirds of the communications workforce, the majority of senior roles are still filled by men. And our invisibility really matters. Because women can’t be what we can’t see.
Just one in ten high school children can name a famous woman working in technology – is that because we don’t exist or because of the Gender Say Gap?
Our invisibility translates into women being less than one in five (17%) of the technologists shaping our world. It’s the same in science, engineering and the built environment. We can only imagine the innovations humanity will miss out on as a result. Women in communications have the power to change that by making rare women more visible – and mobilizing women from functions in these sectors (like marcomms and HR) where women are more plentiful.
We might laugh off irritations like lowering our tone to make voice assistants like Alexa work, because the AI was trained on male voices, but a man-made world is a serious business. Caroline Criado Perez’s new book Invisible Women proves that assuming a white man is the default human is literally killing us – because items from heart drugs to cars are only safety tested on men.
We need a diversity of ideas to solve the existential challenges facing people and the planet. And we need brave women to bring about a world built by men and women, for men and women.
The PR profession has a tremendous opportunity right now to unleash the power of diverse thinkers and speakers for the benefit of their organisation and society.
But if we’re to make a step change in women’s visibility from news coverage to speaker panels we must lead by example – women need to step forward and embrace opportunity – and that means all of us!
So I would like to dare you all to be seen and heard and take three steps to close the Gender Say Gap.
1: Build Your Capability
Recent research* revealed that less than a quarter (24%) of women in the profession have spoken at events and more than half (53%) had experienced events with all-male speaker and panel line-ups.
I have yet to meet anyone who is naturally credible and born good at public speaking. It’s a skill like any other and you have to work at it. For me to campaign on the Gender Say Gap I realised I would have to practice what I preach so I did an intensive course.
Make public speaking and media training part of your personal development and if you work for an agency, identify female spokespeople within your clients’ organisations and make it part of their development too.
2: Say Yes To Opportunity
I want to live in a world where conference organisers can’t say that women are to blame for all male panels because we say no. Last year I vowed that I would say yes to every public speaking opportunity no matter how intimidating its scale or ill-qualified I felt to speak on a subject.
I am about nine months into my challenge and it has been an amazing adventure. I have spoken on subjects from global marketing strategy and thought leadership, to my entrepreneurial journey, global trade and, of course, the Gender Say Gap, to enormous conference halls and even in the Houses of Parliament. My adventures have included being actually paid by the Finnish Institute to write and perform a rap at their annual Feminist Swearing night!
Adopt a “say yes – no excuses” rule and if you are agency side, encourage the same for your clients.
Make sure you put yourself, your team and your clients on the women in PR’s speaker database but don’t stop there – you’re an expert on your industry whether it’s property, life sciences or technology – as well as your profession.
3: Ask For Platforms
I’ve been campaigning for women to close the Gender Say Gap by saying yes to platforms and creating opportunities for other women by recommending them as speakers. I only recently realised that in contrast to the rest of our careers, when it comes to speaking many of us, me included, are still politely waiting to be asked. We should not only be saying yes, but not taking no for an answer!
What are you expert in and what makes your experience special? Prepare a magnetic one-liner about your theme and pitch it to conference organisers.
I urge you all to be seen and heard – stand up and have your say.
And together we can close the Gender Say Gap.
*Women in PR & Opinium, September 2018
Claire is Founder and CEO of Man Bites Dog, the strategic ideas company. To learn more about what Man Bites Dog has been doing to raise awareness of the Gender Say Gap and how to close it, click here