GENDERED AGEISM IN PR: AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT THAT NEEDS DEALING WITH NOW
Grace Keeling, co-founder and communications growth partner at Made By Giants, explores the impact gendered ageism has on the sector.
Here we are again. Every year, at the beginning of March, we reflect on gender equity, and pause to think if we can see any visible, positive change. We give shout-outs to our tenacious female colleagues fighting the good fight, juggling career and family priorities.
But still, age-old problems remain. Gendered ageism continues to cause an exodus from our industry.
Despite women accounting for two-thirds of PR professionals, gender equality remains challenging for many women in the industry. According to Global Women in PR (GWPR), more than half of women in PR revealed they had experienced discrimination at work. Also, astonishingly, only 35% of women see themselves in agency roles beyond 50. And according to the PRCA, the average age for a woman in PR is 28.
So in an industry dominated by female twenty and thirty-somethings, why do fewer women see themselves staying in PR? Why such a discrepancy between women at the beginning of their careers versus their mid-life careers?
There’s no denying that senior female talent is hard to keep hold of. We lose too many creative minds as big life moments become difficult to juggle alongside a PR career; moments like dealing with the costs of child care and managing co-parenting responsibilities. Now, that’s not to say agencies aren’t adjusting. Shared leave policies are (slowly but surely) being implemented, and a more flexible workplace culture is helping mothers cover childcare during the day, so they can work in the evenings (something we do at Made By Giants).
There are marginal gains that deserve celebrating, but they’re very ad-hoc and unique to specific agencies. These types of policies need formalising as a minimal industry standard if we are to see true change across the board.
But we need to go much further than that. Let’s not ignore other age-led life moments. The British Chamber of Commerce recently surveyed thousands of women and 75% of them said there was not enough support for women going through menopause.
PR agencies need properly defined menopause policies and support. With the intricacies of perimenopause and menopause being very individual to each woman, and GPs often misdiagnosing perimenopause as “depression” and “anxiety”, we need more training and open conversations to help raise awareness of the challenges inside high-pressure agency environments. It’s also definitely worth using private health insurance policies as a gateway to more specialist advice and potential treatment. So many concerns from females about their own bodies are easily dismissed by GPs. Getting quicker access to the right services can be supported at the agency level if employees are encouraged to have these open conversations.
Personally, I’m just about to turn 35. Comparatively, against other agency leaders, I’ll be on the younger side.
The odds are stacked against me - and many like me - staying in the industry for the long haul. It’s part of the reason I decided to set up my own, independent agency. Because in that way, I can impact change directly and help build a more equitable culture with my team.
International Women's Day is an important moment to realise there’s change happening, but there is still a long way to go: the more we talk about it, and think about practical ways of dealing with it, the more we move in the right direction. If twenty and thirty-something females continue to leave the workforce en masse, gender progression and representation in our industry won’t exist.