Does a glass ceiling exist in public relations agencies, a traditionally female-dominated industry?


By: Kimberly Eberl

As women’s contributions to society’s history are celebrated during national Women’s History month this March, I wanted to take this opportunity to delve into the topic of gender, especially as it pertains to the industry. With women’s societal gains and accomplishments being spotlighted, this is an opportune time to acknowledge the need for improvement in workforce equality. Considering the gender pay gap still endures today, with women making 78 cents to every dollar their male counterparts receive, equality in the workforce is still not where it should be. What does this mean for the public relations industry?

Many people correlate a “glass ceiling” with male-dominated professions such as finance and those within STEM fields. However, although the public relations industry is female-dominated (70 percent of women make up the executive level), according to last year’s Holmes Report, women only hold about 30 percent of top-level positions in the industry. INFOINFOINFOThis demonstrates that a glass ceiling does in fact exist, and has been a hindrance in allowing women to flourish as professional leaders in management and top level positions. Such situations may arise from the fact that men are still widely viewed as business leaders across all professional sectors. Therefore, the male-dominated thought processes, which unfortunately still prevail in corporate America, can weave its way into the communications industry.

As founder and CEO of one of Chicago’s best public relations agencies, I have become all-too familiar with the inherent difficulties in growing a small business from scratch. Even now, on the cusp of celebrating 10 years in business, I still face them; these potential roadblocks are part and parcel of owning an in-demand communications agency. Before being struck by the entrepreneurial bug, I cut my teeth for more than 15 years at large, national PR agencies. After a position I was in was made redundant, I was faced with the daunting decision of what my next career move would be. While searching for a more permanent solution I freelanced to support myself, with the mindset that it was a temporary solution, something along the wayside until finding a new, permanent home. As time passed I realized some of the amazing perks that came with being my own boss.

My journey to success was an accidental path that ultimately led to my becoming an entrepreneur. As founder and owner of Motion PR, I naturally assume the position of CEO. However, some business executives may assume that because I am a personable woman who appreciates people’s concerns, then I must also be led by emotions and can be easily swayed. However, being approachable, friendly and a good listener should not be deemed as signs of weakness. I believe these qualities assist me in being the executive that people come to when faced with a problem or crisis, as I try to collect all the facts and make the best decision by surveying all possible scenarios.

As a PR professional and business owner who is no stranger to setbacks, I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned over the past ten years, and impart some advice to other female entrepreneurs looking to head up their own company, regardless of area of expertise.

  • Make your presence known: female-based networking groups have a great impact in promoting and encouraging women in their fields. However, make your presence known in gender-neutral groups as well. Don’t be intimated to attend events and seek board positions where you might be the only woman.
  • Stay objective: approach every opportunity, negotiation, business pitch, etc. with a bird’s eye view, regardless of gender, with an eye especially to the ideas and intelligent angles brought to the table.
  • Remain flexible:remember life isn’t always planned. Some of the best entrepreneurs came from unlikely situations and unconventional paths. Stay focused on the end goal, whatever life throws your way.
  • Take risks: refrain from maintaining the status quo; taking calculated risks are what allows for your business – and you as a person – to grow and advance.
  • Get organized:developing a business plan, five-year plan, etc. is a smart move that can pay dividends.

National Women’s History Month is a time to highlight smart, business-savvy women who defy gender stereotypes, not only in the public relations industry, but in the general workforce.