The new girl network

No boys Take a look around the public
relations industry and you'll find a firmly established lower echelon that is
almost exclusively female. I call it the new girl network and it's rapidly
replacing the final vestiges of its old boy predecessor.


I've noticed it in college lectures,
in meetings with interns and in job interviews. It's unsettling and unhealthy
because too much of anything is bad. And, too many young women will distort the
cultures of our organizations and impact the end result of our industry's

I find it interesting that the PR
powers that be are ignoring this alarming trend choosing, instead, to salute
both the up-and-coming and firmly entrenched women of power.


Women should be proud of their
accomplishments in shattering PR's glass ceiling. But, somehow, some way, they
are now fostering a different type of ceiling that, while not inhibiting the
advancement of young men, is sure as heck scaring them away from our

I think our trade groups, leaders of
the largest agencies and top academics need to acknowledge PR's dirty little
secret and devise strategies to make us more diverse and balanced from a gender

If we continue to ignore the
obvious, the industry will pay the price down the road (as other, more
gender-balanced industries who better reflect our increasingly diverse
population, spring up to fill the obvious gap).

43 thoughts on “The new girl network

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  2. Thanks so much for sharing the insight, Brian. I’m not surprised that you’re finding so many women in your communications classes, but I am surprised to hear the trend is so pervasive across the college and university spectrum. It’s interesting to see that gender diversity isn’t a challenge unique to public relations.

  3. I’m a bit late to this conversation, but let me offer a few notes from the academic world:
    1. As the chair of a department of communication, I can confirm that about half my faculty are women. Three-quarters of our 700-plus communication majors are women, as are the majority of our graduate students. The vast majority of our students active in PRSSA are women.
    2. Nationally, for decades the majority of college students have been women. Outside of engineering, the sciences, and business, the disparity is breathtaking. Majors where two-thirds or more students are women are commonplace. Liberal arts colleges are struggling to recruit men and to remain “only” 60% female, with some institutions giving preferential admission (or funding) to prospective male students.
    3. Nationally, women have higher grades than men in undergraduate courses. The explanation for that gap is complex, but the grade differential in communication courses at the College of Charleston is quite large.
    So, to summarize, women now fill most of the seats in our courses, and they are disproportionately our A and B students. Many communication programs, including our own, have added more math, statistics, and research training to their requirements in the past decade, but the relative numbers of women and men haven’t changed.
    Brian McGee
    College of Charleston

  4. Thanks Julie, Lauren and everyone else. Here’s a classic example of what I’m talking about. I had the opportunity to listen to Magic Johnson speak at yesterday’s Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum. Magic is an enormously successful businessman in addition to being an NBA legend. He has partnerships with Starbuck’s, TGI Friday’s and Sony/Loewe’s Theaters, among others. With each, he said that he’s been so successful precisely because he understands the urban mindset. He came from an urban upbringing and knows, instinctively, what they want. He gave movies as an example and said (and, I more or less quote): ‘White folks go to dinner and then the movies. Black folks have dinner AT the movies.’ Knowing that, he ordered massive amounts of hot dogs for his urban theaters and was sold out of the entire stock the very first night. Now, you tell me how a young, white female (or male) would know that.

  5. Hi Lauren –
    As a woman who actually wears lipstick and has 30-plus years history with this product, I think my insights would be more valuable on an account team than a man who has never used the product. That was the point I was trying to make…

  6. I don’t think that I could market lipstick better than any man just because I am a woman, nor do I think any man could automatically market Nike football cleats better than me just because they are male. I think when adequate research is conducted and well thought out marketing and PR tactics are executed creatively, a good practitioner can do well in this business for any client/product/service no matter of gender. I don’t think the fact that there may be more women in the industry today is a bad or good thing, so long as it is an industry full of smart, creative, hard working people.

  7. Amen, Rob. I’ve met some horrific female communicators and some amazing male ones. That said, ‘getting’ the target audience is only enhanced if one happens to be a member of that group. I, for example, would like to think I’d be the ideal account guy for either The History Channel or North Face. I love history and climbing and, I’m sure, match a key demographic of each brand. Young white women can’t possibly ‘get’ each and every brand no matter how good the research or how astute their communications skills.

  8. As an adoring fan of ‘Mad Men,’ I totally remember the scene in question, Julie. I get your point. But, because more women are in positions of power on the corporate side and social media has necessitated a highly-targeted communications program, I believe clients will be increasingly concerned that their agencies not reflect one, homogeneous P.O.V.

  9. To your last point, Steve, is it the job of marketers to decide what an audience wants, or should they leave it up to statistics from niche audiences and conversing with large groups in their clients’ target demo?
    As long as marketers are tapping into the right audience to help clients make their decisions, I don’t think it matters if me or one of my female counterparts makes the decisions at the end of the day.
    We as PR people are content creators and do hold the keys to the kingdom for many brands, but our decisions for our clients shouldn’t be based on our gender, it should be based on market research, doing what is right and doing what is best for the company.
    Does gender really determine if someone is a good communicator and “relationship keeper?”?

  10. I agree, Julie. But, marketers are much savvier today. They’re also beginning to request account teams that are more diverse and representative of the specific target audience with whom they hope to engage. Many larger companies are actually stipulating a certain percentage of diversity/minority representation in their agency partners or simply engaging directly with an agency that specializes in, say, marketing to Asian-Americans.

  11. Thanks Stein. I was worried you’d checked out of this discussion. I thought the original blog was clear in terms of my concerns for the industry’s health. Any offense was, of course, unintended. The more diverse we are, the better for everyone. That said, one Stein is enough for any organization.

  12. Remember the episode of “Mad Men,” where the male account executives were trying to convince Peggy that they know more about how to sell lipstick and bras to women than she did??!! “All women either want to be Marilyn or Jackie,” they insisted. I don’t think a whole lot has changed since 1962 in that regard.

  13. Steve – You said, “Tell me how an increasingly female-dominated industry will convince marketers who want to reach young men that they ‘get’ it.”
    The same way the predominantly male-dominated ad industry of the 1960s and 70s did. Those “Mad Men” thought they knew how to market to women better than women did… The character Peggy in “Mad Men” takes a back-seat to the boys, who think they know better than her how to market lipstick or brassieres; they even told her with an air of authority that “all women want to be either Jackie or Marilyn.” Ridiculous.

  14. From my point of view no network is good, whether it’s the “New Girl” or the “Old Boy.” Rep, I think some of the language you used may have struck a chord with some of your female readers that I don’t think was your intent. For example, your statement “too many young women will distort the cultures of our organizations and impact the end result of our industry’s services” could be construed as derogatory if not taken in its complete context, which I took to be diversity is good and right now our industry is trending toward the opposite. By looks of the comments, some of the readers have been offended by this, but I don’t think the point was to create a gender war. Instead, it was to call attention to the fact that our cubes are currently filled with (smart, creative and capable)women who are doing great work, but the long term health of the industry is dependent on having diverse perspectives. In order to achieve this, we need to do a better job attracting both men and women into the industry. And also, for my own mental health, a few more dudes around couldn’t hurt…

  15. Steve,
    Fair point. Spelled out in this manner, this argument brings up a very valid point. Looking forward to more discussion.

  16. I’m all for empowering women, Erin. It’s clearly long overdue. The fact is, though that we live in an increasingly diverse country. Marketers hire public relations firms to help them connect with those diverse audiences. Tell me how an increasingly female-dominated industry will convince marketers who want to reach young men that they ‘get’ it. That they ‘get’ what it’s like to be a young man. You can’t possibly. Just like the old boy network didn’t ‘get’ the changing demographic of the 1980s and ’90s, I’m concerned the predominantly white, new girl network won’t ‘get’ the changing landscape of 2010 and beyond.

  17. Steve,
    While I agree with you that a gender balanced industry is ideal, I don’t necessarily think we should take measures to force or coax it in that direction. If the industry has shifted to become an environment where women can feel empowered, how can that possibly be negative at all? An empowered woman is a woman who will speak up for what she believes in, who will thrive, who won’t be afraid to succeed.
    And frankly, I don’t care if boys are scared to go into PR because it’s dominated by women. If they want to be in an industry that is currently dominated by women, then they need to get over being afraid of entering it. After all, isn’t that what women have had to do in industries such as engineering, investment banking and the restaurant industry? Look at any one of the major engineering firms in this city – you’ll find mostly males, and a few brave women who jumped right in.

  18. It is an interesting debate or non-debate. To me it’s similar to the discussion Engineering schools/companies have in recruiting women. Or, high tech companies that skew towards Asians and Europeans because there is a lack of talent in the U.S. Nurses also have a similar situation. Each field is challenged with an imbalanced work force – which we all agree is not ideal. However, I have noticed that majority of the men who get into PR that I’ve worked with have started with the idea of getting into politics or sports PR (which usually are more male dominated segments of the industry – think Jerry McGuire or Spin City). It would be interesting to do a poll to see if that is sort of a common factor that makes it feel “safe” for men to enter our field from a social standpoint.

  19. You are 100 percent correct Julie. The old boy network is still thriving in banking, finance and other industries. But, since I don’t ‘live’ in those worlds, I don’t know what the latest hiring trends are. I’m hopeful these industries are waking up to the changing demographics and will construct a workforce that reflects it.

  20. I think companies like hiring women because the “gals” earn less and work hard. Men generally dominate the industries with the highest salaries – investment banking, consulting firms, etc. I think there should be diversity in all industries – including PR. I agree that PR women get a bad rap as “party planners.” And I am weary of people (men and women) referring to me as a “PR gal.”

  21. Don’t blame it on gender. Older females are not finding work. Blame it on employers who prefer to hire only young females and Richard Nixon for signing an executive order in 1969 amending the civil rights act to include white women – now the majority in the work force and still designated a minority.
    In 1976, women comprised 26% of workforce – today, 54%. Blacks comprised roughly 12% of workforce in 1976; today, 13-15%. So much easier having a white woman’s face rather than a person of color in the office. Arizona’s state government is roughly 80% female. Few men are in personnel, public relations, advertising and now news media.
    In the early ’90s I was looking for a job. I sat for two years without an interview using Richard. I changed my resume, using a middle name that is either male or female, and I got 8 calls in one month. No interviews once they found I was male. I even had one go, We were just calling to verify information – your phone number is – after they had called the phone number. Yet on my voice mail, they said they wanted to set up an interview.
    No wonder men don’t enter the field. They’ve heard this story. Also, a friend who taught at ASU said he would take the lone male who entered his class aside and told him he’d never get a job in PR.

  22. Carolyn, change is my middle name. I’m all for it and think it’s incredibly healthy. But, the industry in which we work is morphing in the wrong way With our population becoming amazingly diverse, a PR workforce that’s all women and predominatly white is, unbalanced and unhealthy. We should mirror the population we seek to engage in conversation.

  23. Caryn, I agree with you about having diversity on all fronts. Unfortunately, equal amounts of diversity in the workforce will only happen in a perfect world. It’s something I deal with and work through every day.
    Steve, why can’t women dominate the PR industry and still have “balance”? The “old boys” have been dominating most of the workforce’s (especially white collar) industries for centuries. Prior to coming into the PR industry, I knew that I would be the minority. You don’t hear me saying this is an epidemic and has to change. The industry will continue to evolve with time. For all we know, 15 years from now gay men might be running the PR industry. Embrace change.

  24. Great find, Alicia. And, I totally concur about the ‘opportunities’ inherent in the female-to-male ratio in PR. Oh, to be young, single and male in a PR firm.

  25. Do you think this is happening in advertising, too?
    I do think there are some innate qualities that women possess that make them successful in PR. I am incredibly proud to work with the women I do. But therein also lies danger.
    First, a balanced workforce benefits everyone — different perspectives and orientations usually lead to a better outcome. I’d hate to lose out on that. But what I’m more worried about — and RepMan will say this is the feminist in me coming out — is that as you we make a workforce that is too skewed toward women, you actually run the risk of reducing incomes and power in the corporate mix. I’m not happy about that; no woman is. But it’s the way of the world today.

  26. Point taken, Alicia. I try to make the blogs brief and should have elaborated further. But, I’m also viewing the gender gap from the perspective when PR was predominately male, became balanced and then morphed into what it is today. Obviously, women aren’t purposely scaring away men from PR. Their sheer numbers do the scaring for them.

  27. OK, point taken, I guess I just wished that you had delved more into those strategies rather than positioning this as a problem that women are fostering (at least that’s how I and others took it). Maybe we’re looking at a chicken and egg situation, men don’t enter PR because they see it as women only, but if there were more men in PR it wouldn’t be women only, eh?

  28. Good for you, Caryn. I agree that a meritocracy works best. But, the old boy network failed because it was one dimensional and no longer reflected an increasingly diverse society. A new-girl network will fail for the very same reason. We need gender diversity in PR.

  29. You’re lucky I like you, Alicia. I did point to a solution. I think the three ‘pillars’ of PR (academic, corporate and agency) need to first, admit there’s a gender gap problem and second, agree on strategies to reach out to young men. When I said young women are scaring young men away from PR, I meant only in the sense that lots of young men with whom I’ve spoken purposely avoid PR because they see it as a ‘women’s-only’ profession.

  30. I’m not sure I completely understand the point you’d like to debate, Lunch. But, PR (and PR agencies in particular) needs to be as diverse as the markets we hope to reach. If we aren’t, another, more diverse service sector will fill the void.

  31. if men (well, young men) decide to pursue a different career path based on the perception that “SITC” and the “Hills,” could offer well, they are just as dumb as the women (young gals) that think it’s all about party planning. simply put, the industry needs neither. lists that rank women, men, people under 40 and agencies in terms of $ucce$$ are bullshit. we all know this, but still care. that is something i would like to debate.

  32. I do agree that there is an inaccurate perception of what PR really is (that it’s all young women planning parties, etc.) and that this is probably one of the main reasons that men choose to stay away from it. But what is the solution to this? Is the onus on academic institutions to do a better job of teaching it and counseling their communications students on what it really is? Is it the “industry’s” responsibility to make a better name for itself? Probably both. I wish you had explored this in your post instead of saying that women are “sure as heck scaring [men] away from our profession” because to Caryn’s point, I really don’t think this is the case.

  33. Women’s success is intimidating men and scaring them away from the industry? I just don’t buy it. And if there is truth behind it, then our industry is all the stronger for it – weeding out weak employees, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., is always in the company’s and industry’s best interest.

  34. Great question, McKenna. I think there are many reasons why young men are staying away from PR. It’s a combination of Hollywood’s portrayal of the profession (think “Sex in the city,” “Hills,” etc.) and the fact that women have done incredibly well in our industry. I believe there’s an unstated, unspoken perception among young men that PR is for young women who plan parties. That’s a gross inaccuracy and speaks poorly of what we actually do do. But, that’s what I’m seeing and that’s why I believe our industry needs to step up to the plate, admit the problem and take steps to address it.

  35. Steve, I agree that all industries should have a balanced workforce. However, I’d like you to expand on what exactly women are doing to scare men away. Who isn’t to say that men’s abandonment of PR has something to do with the old boy network of yesteryear?