I recently reread Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 bestseller, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Her advice for succeeding in a male-dominated workplace continues to inspire me. Unfortunately, since her book’s publication, I find that not much has changed in terms of the career obstacles that remain in front of so many women.
Let’s face it: Most professions still maintain a C-suite “men’s club” mentality, and the PR business is no exception. Female PR professionals continue to look up at a glass ceiling without many cracks at the very top.
PR is among the most rapidly growing professions, and at first glance, it doesn’t look all that bad for women. According to a 2017 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women hold 61% of all PR jobs, and 59% of the managerial positions. Additionally, a 2017 World PR Report reveals that 78% of CEOs in the top 30 PR agencies worldwide are men, with women filling in the remaining 22%.
In every stage of my career, I’ve had to battle stereotypes constantly. There are still assumptions about what females are capable of. While I’ve always had to prove my value beyond the requirements of my male peers, finding success in my role as a CEO has its perks. Thanks to navigating the bumps and roadblocks, not only have I developed an acute business sense, but I’ve also learned a great deal about myself along the way.
While this bruising environment may have worked for me, I resolved years ago to make it easier for promising young women to achieve their career dreams and goals without always having to play by rules set 50 years ago by alpha-male Don Drapers.
The first step in changing this narrative starts with accountability. As an agency owner, when I hire and bring on new talent, I look at experience, diversity, capabilities and growth potential. You should want a team member to come in doing an amazing job and want to promote them. There is no reason that an account manager or senior-level manager can’t move up the ranks sooner rather than later.
Our PR Director, Nikkia, is a great example of this. She started with our team in late 2017 as a senior-level manager and by mid-2018 was promoted to director of our PR arm. She wasn’t promoted for promotion’s sake. In less than a year, she made significant changes and contributed in meaningful ways to support our clients while adding to our company’s value and culture.
She is also a woman of color, and while this wasn’t the reason for her promotion, it affirmed my conviction that diversity is key. You can’t grow your business in a time of innovation and disruption without having diverse perspectives that more closely reflect your clients and their rapidly evolving customer bases. Besides, statistically, women of color in the C-Suite are few and far between, and that must change.
Empower Your Team
To further cultivate women in executive positions, there must also be an element of empowerment. My business partner and I are adamant about giving our team the tools and the encouragement they need to be great every day. It’s a deliberate decision, and I believe with this approach, the glass ceiling will start to shatter as empowered women push their way to the top.
Executive leaders can empower their team members by incorporating two key concepts:
1. Trust your gut. In our business, decisions must be made at a moment’s notice. Leaders can become accustomed to providing their team with all the answers and this, unfortunately, can stunt your team’s growth. When choices have to be made, encourage your team to rely on their expertise and be confident in handling situations ahead of them.
2. Level up. Our industry is changing rapidly. With technology automating our day-to-day processes and new trends emerging, it can be hard to keep up. As leaders, we have to encourage everyone — from interns to senior management — to stretch their skill set. I find it’s the only way to thrive in this environment.
So, how can women in business thrive once they’ve been given a chair?
Fight the fear and assume your power.
Assuming your power is one of the most instrumental things a woman in business can do for herself and her career. Assuming your power doesn’t mean that you won’t be afraid. It means that you can overcome the fear by speaking up for yourself and colleagues by using your most powerful asset: your voice.
Recognize your environment.
As women, it’s key to recognize the business value we bring to our clients and organizations. Historically, communicating our worth has been an uphill battle. We have been excluded from important conversations in which we could bring real value and insight. With this comes recognizing the environment in which we operate. How are women maneuvering within your organization? Are they in dead-end roles? Are there opportunities for growth? These are very important questions that we cannot take lightly.
There really isn’t any other option. Are the stakes higher for women undertaking top roles at a company? Yes. There’s a lot of pressure, and the world seems to always be watching. But on the other side, when you become a leader and key decision maker in your own right, there’s a sense of accomplishment. At that point, the fire within you is refueled, which only makes you want to fight harder for other female leaders.
The success of any company depends on strong leadership that is driven to innovate, and innovation is enhanced when women bring their perspectives to the table. As leaders, we are obligated to create opportunities for female executives to be successful and continue to encourage them to take charge of their future. Doing so demonstrates a leader’s ability to elevate and enhance performance that resonates across an organization, which becomes a win-win scenario for all involved.
Read the full Forbes article here.