Name one other industry that’s purposely alienating 50 percent of its recruiting base

Visionaries such as Mike Paul and Kim Hunter are to be congratulated for their efforts in making public relations a more diverse field.

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But, while we’re making great strides in diversity, we’re going in the reverse direction in addressing an equally perplexing problem: the near total lack of young men entering the public relations profession.

PR Daily News recently published an article
authored by Alexis Morgan, a senior at Penn State University majoring in public relations and broadcast journalism. Ms. Morgan was inspired to write her piece after noticing there was only one guy in her entire PR class (note: having lectured at countless colleges and universities, I can confirm what Alexis observed. It’s rare to see more than one male student in any college PR class).

Curious as to why there were so few men, Ms. Morgan asked two of her professors. Ann Major, a former PR pro turned professor, attributed the seismic decline in male PR students to the rising number of women enrolling in colleges nationally. “Because more women are attending college,” Major told Morgan, “the number— and percentage of PR students increases.” To which I respond, ‘Puh-lese!’

Another PSU professor, Steve Manuel, told Alexis the PR field is less intriguing to men than other fields. “PR is a more conservative field, while advertising is more relaxed.” Yeah, right. And Neil Armstrong never walked on the moon.

Manuel also posited this gem of an insight, “Women are seen as more sensitive, more approachable, and are better listeners than men.” To which I respond, “Complete rubbish!” I can introduce Professor Manuel to any number of women PR executives who are beyond blunt, completely unapproachable and hard-wired not to listen to anything one says. His remarks are nothing less than reverse discrimination bias.

But, I digress. Ms. Morgan’s professors are either in complete denial or completely oblivious to the real causes so few young men enter the PR profession today. They include, but are not limited to:
-    Hollywood’s constant portrayal of PR as little more than an event and party planning support function populated by bubble-headed blonds.
-    The PR industry’s constant celebration of the rise of women to senior ranks on both the agency and corporate side (while focusing less and less on real male role models from Generation X).
-    The dearth of PR industry spokespeople willing to address a politically incorrect subject.

I see the latter cohort as the real culprit. By ignoring the problem, we’re alienating 50 percent of our recruiting base. That’s both amazing and disturbing.

If leadership of The Arthur W. Page Society, the PRSA and The Council of PR Firms were less concerned about ‘earning a seat at the table’ today and more focused on building a balanced profession in the future, we’d see some meaningful education programs being put in place. These efforts would be widespread, aimed at high school boys and would shine the spotlight on the great careers being carved out by the few young men who do populate our ranks today.

Instead, as their forefathers did when race and gender discrimination ran amok in the 1960s and ‘70’s, today’s industry leaders are turning a blind eye on a trend that will one day soon result in an industry that is 90 percent female. And, what’s wrong with that you ask? Easy. If we don’t represent the increasingly diverse population our public and private sector clients are trying to reach, how can we possibly create a strategic communications solution?

You wouldn’t hire an old white man to publicize a fashion accessory for teenaged girls, would you? Well, marketers won’t hire all-female teams to market razor blades to blue-collar men either. In fact, I predict you’ll see more and more clients turn to more diverse professions such as advertising and branding in the future simply because they’re more balance from a race and gender standpoint.

It’s high time our trade groups stepped up to the plate and addressed the elephant in the room. If they don’t, that elephant will be 90 percent pink in a decade or less.

26 thoughts on “Name one other industry that’s purposely alienating 50 percent of its recruiting base

  1. Thanks so much for the comment, Robin. I can’t speak to the male/female percentage in journalism, but I doubt it parallels those in PR for two reasons: Hollywood hasn’t type cast young, bubbleheaded blonds in the roles written for reporters and, second, the various professional organizations serving journalism seem to be equal opportunity employers when it comes to handing out Pulitzer Prizes and other awards. Please do let me know the gender ratios at your upcoming PRSSA speeches.

  2. Thanks GoToPEngel. I’m not sure what industry you’ve been recruiting for of late, but I suggest you keep an eye open on the gender diversity (or lack thereof). As for stand-up material, I have some all new Easter-specific bits that have a lot to do with suffering, but nothing to do with gender discrimination (although the apostles were all men).

  3. Thanks for great post. It’s something I’ve noted for years when speaking to PRSSA groups or visiting PR classes at area universities. Like you, I have come to the conclusion that competent young men who decide to pursue a PR profession should have easier access at least to their first job (how they progress after that is up to them).
    When I was in college, there were few institutions even teaching PR as a major. The path to PR typically passed through journalism, and there were plenty of guys studying journalism, which requires many of the same skills as PR.
    I’m curious to know if there are fewer males studying journalism today compared to 25 years ago. I also wonder if a part of the problem lies in high schools and lower interest/focus on reading and writing.
    I am speaking at two upcoming PRSSA conferences in Michigan and I will make it a point to see what percentage of the attendees are male. I predict it will be less than 10% of the total.

  4. Thanks GoToPEngel. I’m not sure what industry you’ve been recruiting for of late, but I suggest you keep an eye open on the gender diversity (or lack thereof). As for stand-up material, I have some all new Easter-specific bits that have a lot to do with suffering, but nothing to do with gender discrimination (although the apostles were all men).

  5. At least now I understand your logic, even if I find it a bit tortured. Still, I can’t agree that indifference in this case equals discrimination — especially when it’s compared to something like Jim Crow laws. Friendly suggestion: Don’t try this one out on a stand-up audience.

  6. At least now I understand your logic, even if I find it a bit tortured. Still, I can’t agree that indifference in this case equals discrimination — especially when it’s compared to something like Jim Crow laws.
    Friendly suggestion: Don’t try this one out on a stand-up audience.

  7. Spot on, as always, Ghost. In fact, when I do lecture at undergraduate PR classes, I congratulate the sole male student. I tell him, because of the odds, he should have absolutely no problem whatsoever finding employment. I warn the young ladies that, because there are so many of them, they’ll need to work extra hard to differentiate themselves from their peers. So, in that regard, the few, remaining young men have an unfair competitive advantage. Nice analysis, Ghost.

  8. Thanks Julie. You’ve summed up my main points beautifully (which may be an argument for more women bloggers. But, that’s a different blog for a different day).

  9. OK, let me re-frame the discussion for you, GoToPEngel. As a part-time, stand-up comedian for the past five years, I’ve learned that a silent audience is far more dangerous than a hooting, howling and heckling one. With the latter, a comedian stands a chance of winning back the audience’s favor. But, a comedian is DOA with an indifferent crowd. And, that’s precisely what we’re dealing with in PR; profound passivity.
    Jim Crow laws in the Deep South were overlooked for decades by the occupants of the White House. Were the presidents of the day practicing discrimination? Not by definition. But, their inaction certainly enabled a serious wrong to continue. That’s what’s happening here.”

  10. I’m equating indifference to reverse discrimination in this case, annmb. By ignoring the problem, our industry’s leadership is condoning an all-female industry in the future. You tell me how that differs from the all-white, all-male bastions of the past turning the same, blind eye to a different type off discrimination? In this case, inactivity equals discrimination.

  11. I agree — and disagree — with points made by GoToP. On the agreement side, he’s hit the nail on the head in regard to a continuing problem for PR (albeit one that might have little to do with gender, per se): The lack of management standards and training programs. It doesn’t tend to be an industry that deploys people with business management degrees into places of authority; rather, it tends to be someone who has succeeded previously. And, there’s a big difference between being able to pitch a story to the media and being able to manage people below you. The seat-of-the-pants management and the politics that often accompany it can’t be seen as a positive for those interested in professional structure.
    Where I disagree, however, is in the area of discrimination. I think the current paradigm allows for the “right” man to advance quickly, even more so than a similarly qualified woman, simply because of the unique qualities his female counterpart can’t equal: He is a man — and the “right” man (fill in your own qualifications here) is hard to come by in the industry. Considered another way, it’s probably more difficult for a woman to distinguish herself in a field made up entirely of women than it would be for a man in the same field.

  12. I agree with RepMan; it’s a perception problem that has been fostered by the young clipboard-wielding, gum-snapping, superficial “party planners” who are portrayed on TV as overseeing PR.
    As a woman in PR, it’s been my experience that folks generally don’t take the role seriously as a profession that requires skill, training, and strategic prowess. They think anyone can do it because all it requires is the ability to alphabetize a list and check off names at the door of a posh nightclub.
    Why would men want to join a field that promises low entry-level wages to work in this kind of environment?

  13. To avoid being labeled either verbose or vitriolic, I’ll agree that PR’s lack of gender balance has become alarming. Clearly, more needs to be done by the profession to change this. But as troubling as Steve Andrews’ comments are, I just can’t see quantifying this trend as discrimination, reverse or otherwise.

  14. Interesting article Steve, while one person’s experience does not a trend reveal, it may nonetheless support one – I recently met with a PR agency executive and had a wonderful meeting; our conversation actually got down to the tactical level of how I planned on implementing some of my ideas for the well-known firm.
    Only to be asked by a close friend in the industry who, like yourself, is extremely well connected and knowledgeable about our collective leadership, “Why I would even have bothered to meet with this particular executive, since she would never hire a male for such a senior role.”
    Ack, I suppose, for now, I’ll need to become accustomed to gender bias and discrimination. What’s a boy to do, after all.

  15. RepMan, I agree with your point about the decline of male representation hurting our industry. It hurts any industry — or government body or church — not to have different points of view represented. And I’m troubled that the industry isn’t doing more about it, beginning at the college level, where it sounds like at least some professors are oblivious. The only troubling point was your note back to GoToPEngel, when you referenced reverse discrimination. I don’t think that’s the problem. But it could be if this continues. There are plenty of studies out there — mostly about women in male-dominated industries — that show how we tend to hire and promote people who are like us.

  16. Someone’s a tad verbose today, GoToPEngel. By ignoring the fact that PR will soon be 9/10th female, our industry’s leadership is, in fact, washing its hands of the problem. Call it neglect. Call it a convenient oversight. Or call it reverse discrimination. The fact is this: the industry is becoming all-female. Explain to me how this is a positive.

  17. Did both Erin and I misunderstood your post? I appreciate your clarification, but it sure sounded like you were complaining that opportunities for men in PR were declining, and suggesting that discrimination exists against men as a gender in the PR field. That would border on the ridiculous.
    Yes, I was a recruiter and proud of it, though I’ve since gone on to much greener pastures. And I certainly witnessed discrimination by clients for all kinds of reasons, including age and appearance. I encountered male candidates who felt the “culture” of certain employers didn’t fit what they wanted. Reaching deeper, I often learned it was because women ran the place. But that’s not discrimination as I understand it if the candidate would have been hired.
    Regarding why the next generation of men are rejecting PR, wouldn’t it be fairer to say it’s self-imposed for all the reasons we’ve all aptly described? I’d also add that many PR operations have a reputation for being reactive rather than proactive, the profit margins are low, the managers don’t always know what they’re doing, the politics are enervating, you don’t always get that “seat at the table” that top PR pros say the industry now has, and yes, the hours are long and the starting pay is lousy. You can’t discount those factors as turn-offs. Many college grads, both men and women, leave the field within 3-5 years.
    Here’s a final thought: in a professional world where men and women are increasingly getting more equal opportunities, men may feel most comfortable in an environment where they don’t feel their gender might be a hindrance. That could be anything from oil rigging to raising your children. From a perception standpoint, PR isn’t one of those fields. You’re correct that the field has to overcome this.
    You seem a bit vitriolic today, Repman. Did someone not wake up on his happy side?

  18. Thanks so much for the input, Erin, but you misunderstood my point. I’m not suggesting we do, or say, anything to undermine the strides made by women in PR. I’m advocating, instead, for more male gender diversity.
    A lack of diversity is bad for any industry, but especially one that aspires to represent clients who need to market to an increasingly diverse population. If we don’t do something soon, PR will one day soon be all female. And that, in turn, will limit its growth for the reasons I enumerated in the original blog.
    Clients want an agency team that ‘gets’ its target demographic. There’s no way you’ll ever convince me a 23-year-old female Millennial ‘gets’ my purchase wants and needs. We need a gender balanced industry.”

  19. I have a few comments:
    First off, Hollywood’s portrayal of PR through The Hills and Kell on Earth doesn’t just do a disservice to men, it does a disservice to the whole industry. It gives all of us, men and women, the reputation of being b*tchy, mean executives who only care about who they’re sitting next to at dinner and getting their clients into – or keeping them out of – US Weekly. My clients will never be in US Weekly, Page Six, or any other similar publication. Only a very small percentage of the industry is focused on that type of reputation management. Some of us in the profession spend our days thinking about things much more important than a Hollywood scandal. We think about banking regulations, and how to help a start-up succeed, and how to elevate smart, intelligent people who can offer real insight on a variety of issues as thought leaders. But my friends – and likely many of yours – probably still think that I spend mr day screaming on the phone about nonsense. Thank you, TV’s portrayal of PR.
    Secondly, what’s wrong with the industry celebrating the success of its women? Plenty of other industries celebrate the success of their male dominated executive ranks, and don’t think twice about it. If our industry is one that helps promote women, and one that appreciates and respects the benefits the women bring to the workforce, what’s the problem with that? If those women are deserving of there positions, the industry should be celebrating them!
    We are too quick to forget how many industries are not welcoming for women. Men have plenty of chances to succeed, be praised and earn more on the dollar than women. That doesn’t mean that PR should shy them away, it just means that women have it hard enough – why can’t we appreciate one industry that appreciates us? Why do we want to instead make it even harder for women to succeed in the working world than it already is?

  20. I don’t think the earning potential between PR and Wall Street is remotely comparable. Indeed, when wifey-pooh and I graduated from college in the same month, her entry-level job in banking paid nearly twice as much as mine did in PR. I don’t want to even get into what happened to our respective salaries in the years that followed.
    I do agree that this lack of diversity harms the industry. There are gender differences — and I say that without attaching a value judgment as to which is better, smarter, can win an arm-wrestling match, etc. As the astute observer will note, the all-male and all-female teams never seem to win on Family Feud. There’s a reason for that.

  21. It’s not hard to figure out why you’ve chosen recruiting and not PR as a career, Peter. Men ‘suffer’ through any series women watch (and, vice versa). Here are the facts: nine out of 10 people joining the PR industry are women. And, a lack of diversity, be it gender, race, creed, etc., is wrong. Put that in your headhunting pipe and smoke it.

  22. Repman, I’ll believe your theory when Spike TV or FX creates a successful reality or scripted show about the trials and tribulations of guys at a PR agency — getting a beer or razor account, sleeping around, being accused of sexual harassment, etc.
    I’d also be very likely to watch it.
    What I have a hard time believing is that there are too many men who suffer through “Kell On Earth,” “SITC,” etc. I know that you only do it for professional reasons, of course.

  23. I disagree, GoToPEngel. This has nothing to do with one gender’s abilities (or lack thereof) and everything to do with Hollywood’s portrayal of PR as a woman’s occupation (and our industry’s unwillingness to correct the misperceptions. By the time they’ve reached 18, and suffered through enough episode of “The Hills”, “Kell on Earth” and other mindless TV shows, most guys have figured out that PR is simply not a man’s occupation.

  24. While I agree that the professors’ reasons for more women than men in PR are superficial, I don’t think “Hollywood” and its portrayal of airhead PR types like Kim Catrall on “Sex in the City” is a legit answer either.
    I will concur that more young men may think PR is a “women’s profession.”
    More PR and communications departments are being led by women. That is being celebrated, as Repman points out.
    Is it possible that in 2012, men perceive that several industries now have working environments that favor women and cut them off from chances for advancement?
    I can see a number of women being upset by that statement or seeing it as ridiculous. It’s possible that one of them shares my home.
    I feel uncomfortable saying this, even as a man who’s mostly comfortable around women in situations that are new to me – shameless plug for my own blog here: http://hellhappiness.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/the-only-guy-in-the-room/
    Still, that’s my view. I see this as just one part of an overall paradigm shift now occurring in both education and the workplace.

  25. Thanks for the comment, Ghost. Low salaries are a problem vis-a-vis management consulting, Wall Street and other industries, but I don’t see that as an obstacle keeping men from the profession. Your last point is spot on, though. Young men are already brainwashed into thinking PR is a woman’s profession by the time they declare their major. That’s why we need to reach them at the high school level.

  26. “…blunt, completely unapproachable and hard-wired not to listen to anything one says…” I’d like to comment on this, but I have to go an assignment-sheet meeting.
    I, too, share in your disagreement with regard to the Penn State professors. The real culprits, in my opinion, are low entry-level salaries and the idea that PR is not seen as a “destination” for men — rather, it’s something they fall into by accident.