Motion PR CEO Kimberly Eberl on the Glass Ceiling in Public Relations

Motion PR CEO Kimberly Eberl recently spoke with Talent Management about the realities of a glass ceiling within the public relations field.

Can You Have a Glass Ceiling in a Female-Dominated Industry?

The short answer is yes. Kimberly Eberl, Founder and CEO of Motion PR, shared a few pearls on how this happens in female-heavy industries like PR, and what women can do about it.

Women in Office

As far as workforce demographics are concerned, women have been “the new majority” in public relations for quite some time, both on the agency and corporate sides of the industry. Firms large and small have been predominantly staffed by women — except at the top. According to the 2015 Holmes Report, while women make up about 70 percent of the PR workforce, they only hold about 30 percent of the top positions in the industry.

Kimberly Eberl, founder and CEO of Motion PR, has worked at global PR firms including Ogilvy PR and Weber Shandwick, where she developed strategies and executed brand-building campaigns for Sam’s Club, Johnsonville Sausage, Lipton and the national Got Milk? campaign’s grassroots mobile marketing tours. She founded Motion PR in 2006.

Since its inception, Motion PR has seen steady, continual growth, which is notable given PR is often considered a luxury when it comes time to tighten the old financial belt, and we’ve just gone through the Great Recession. These challenges notwithstanding, navigating the pitfalls of a growing, in-demand business is no small feat.

Eberl spoke with Diversity Executive about why PR and other female-dominated industries still lack women leaders at the top, why being personable is not a flaw as a leader, and why women looking to scale the corporate ladder or become entrepreneurs have to network with everyone — not just other women.

Can you have a glass ceiling in a female-dominated industry?

The public relations industry is largely female-dominated. There are women at all levels, including chief client officers and presidents. Ironically, however, at many of the big agencies, the majority of CEO positions are held by men. In many industries, to be a CEO often requires having an advanced degree in business, economics, accounting or law, but when surveying CEOs at these large, global agencies, this often isn’t the case.

It also can’t be said that their female counterparts lack either the communications or grace-under-pressure skills. A PR career is not only stressful, it demands the ability to express your ideas with clarity and ease. When trying to theorize why this may still be the case in PR, it is possible to consider that these agencies are publicly traded, have stockholders and boards, which appoint such executives. Therefore, male-dominated thought processes, which unfortunately still prevail in corporate America, are able to weave their way into communications industry.

As a female business owner, is your authority ever in question?

As founder and owner of Motion PR, I naturally assume the position of CEO. However, some business executives assume that because I’m a personable woman who listens to concerns that I also must be ruled by emotions and am easily swayed. Being approachable, friendly and a good listener are not signs of weakness. I believe those qualities assist me in being the executive people come to when faced with a problem or crisis. They know I will collect all the facts and make the best decision possible by surveying all the scenarios and interests presented.

What advice can you share with other women entrepreneurs looking to lead their own companies, or to women in the workplace looking to advance to the top job, regardless of their field? 

I never approach an opportunity, negotiation, business pitch, etc., thinking about gender. I always look at things objectively and demonstrate my position, gender-aside. Further, although I do feel that women-based networking groups are good environments, women need to have a repeated presence in situations that are not female-only to break through in their field.

Let’s take the field of engineering, for example. There are a number of female-based networking groups and associations like IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] Women in Engineering and the Society of Female Engineers, both of which have a great impact in promoting and encouraging women in their fields. However, there’s the Society of Professional Engineers, which is gender-neutral, yet still gathers engineers to get to know each other. Attending events and seeking board positions in both types of organizations can only help a woman’s professional network.