Flexible work policies, honesty, and inclusion – how the PR industry can better work conditions for all

Women have continuously dominated PR. According to a survey by the PR communications census 2018, women make up 66% of the PR workforce. This fabulous feminisation of PR has often been celebrated in fictional characters such as Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones and Absolutely Fabulous’ Edina Monsoon. Yet, as many try to hazard a guess as to the reasons behind the female dominance of the industry, traditional gender binaries are often reinforced: women are better listeners, women are better multitaskers, and women are more social. While these are all key attributes of the job, these arguments appear futile when we examine the positions women hold in PR leadership. A survey by PR Week in 2018 revealed that women occupy only 39% of PR leadership roles. The lack of women in directorial roles is not an issue isolated to the PR industry. The House of Commons Women in the Economy Briefing Paper 2021  reveals that, across the UK, 14% of men hold positions as managers, directors and senior officials compared to just 9% of women. It is vital that employers understand some of the key issues keeping women at bay from top-level positions and provide an accommodating work environment to help counter the gender imbalance.

Women’s entry to the office was a significant mobiliser in women’s liberation. As The Typewriter Revolution exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland reveals, women first entered the office space with the accompaniment of the typewriter, albeit to relieve men from menial tasks. Eventually, typewriters equipped women with the means to launch their own businesses, become financially independent and, fundamentally, gave them the means to campaign for the vote. However, women continue to make up the majority of employees in administrative and secretarial work in the UK, part-time workers in low-paid occupations and are statistically less likely to be in employment than men.

As we return to look at our PR industry, considerations must be made to what is keeping women from the top. Institutionally, we are not equipped with legislation that will help women achieve further success in the workplace. One key aspect to this is child-rearing responsibilities. Currently, the UK offers 52 weeks maternity leave for mothers yet just an optional one to two weeks for fathers. Naturally, women then take on more unpaid home labour and are often drawn to accept roles that offer flexibility rather than promotion.

If the pandemic has taught businesses anything, it is our ability to adapt. As we packed up the office last March and entered a world of uncertainty, flexible work was essential to ensure the well-being of staff and adapt to the added responsibilities of childcare and home-schooling. While the pandemic has had a catastrophic human and economic effect, it has nonetheless provided some lessons for the workplace. Just as the typewriter ignited a digital revolution that benefited women, more recent technological transformations have demonstrated that we are equipped with the resources to provide a more flexible environment for our workforce.

At Skout, a B2B PR agency , we have worked hard with our team to create an accommodating and inclusive work environment for everyone. We understand that flexibility is essential to well-being and, in-turn, has substantial benefits to work productivity. Our Flexible Work Policy allows staff to work from home and amend working hours to suit them when necessary. We are also keen to rid workplace taboos and create a space where staff feel listened to and provided for. As described by women across the globe in a BBC Business Daily podcast  , many women feel that the menopause is a workplace taboo and do not know how to initiate conversations around their needs when they go through such a transformational physical and mental experience. That’s why we have recently introduced our Menopause Policy. We commit to providing a workplace where women can articulate their needs openly and honestly. We commit to providing a work environment suitable for symptoms of the menopause such as cooled office space, private workspaces, and options to work remotely. As a team, we continuously hold discussions to ensure everyone’s needs are considered and help to contribute to a better working environment for all.

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