International Women’s Day was created over 100 years ago to highlight issues around gender equality and to celebrate the political and social achievements of women. It remains an important date in the calendar, though I feel that the day we really celebrate it will be the day when it is no longer needed. However, the international focus for the day and this year’s theme of gender equality is what is important.
There remain extensive inequalities and abuse of women in many societies. It is a painful societal split that we are fortunate in the West to have achieved equality and freedoms that many women in other cultures don’t have. So how you mark International Women’s Day could be in a number of ways. It is essential to support the international outreach and the work the UN, for instance, is doing to encourage the world to move forward after the pandemic, ending violence and abuse of women. If we could eradicate the injustices meted out to women across the world and no longer need a women’s day, that would be the finest achievement. And at home, if we can improve employment opportunities in our industry, that would go some way to reducing inequality.
Of course, we can be proud of the fact that PR employs so many women and offers them wide opportunities for advancement. In the UK there are other industries too that now predominantly employ more women than men. The number of male and female doctors fluctuates pretty much at 50%, there are now more female lawyers than male, and we have 75% female employment in education.
According to the PRCA PR Census, in our industry of 95,000 practitioners we are 67% female. The real equality issue in PR is actually not about gender any more. What stands out for me is the wide lack of diversity within that female-focused workforce. With 80% white British and painfully low, single figure numbers of representation from non-white, non-British and disabled members in the PR workforce, it does beg the question: what should our industry be doing to increase diversity?
As we do blaze a trail for successful female employment, the real challenge for our industry is to consider how we can ensure that more of the women working in PR are from underrepresented groups. It’s something we have been considering recently when reviewing our recruitment policy. How easy it is to advertise a job in the same, traditional places we always have, though by using that approach we are just ostracizing the very people we should be seeking to employ. As employers, we need to broaden our workforce and increase diversity. We can work with organisations who actively support a diverse workforce such as Skills Development Scotland or Kickstart, and we can actively highlight our wish to employ people from underrepresented groups – a start would be signing the Scottish Business Pledge.
One hundred years ago in the UK these jobs just didn’t exist for women and over that time the opportunities for women have increased, to the point where in our society there are few jobs women, or anyone, cannot apply for. However, as an industry that should be held up as an example of excellence in that we employ so many women, it is a duty for us to both celebrate our achievements on International Women’s Day, but also to consider how we can now increase the employment of those who are further underrepresented in our society.
So my call to PR on International Women’s Day is to help women who are disadvantaged by their gender in societies and cultures by highlighting the stories and experiences of those women and by supporting the people who go above and beyond to help them. And closer to home, in our own industry which employs so many women, take time to consider how we can bring about active change in employment that will enhance our work, broaden our perspective and make us truly representative of society today.