A Woman’s Perspective on PR’s Gender Gap: Eleven Ways for Women to Rise in the Ranks

by Jeri Cartwright
President, Cartwright Communications
for Bulldog Media's Daily Dog Blog   3/20/2006

PR salaries are up according to PRWeek’s recent Korn/Ferry Salary Survey. The bad news: Women, though dominant in this profession, still lag behind in compensation. At a time when the PR field is infused with new money and embraced by top management, we need to take urgent action.

The details: According to the 1,401 PR professionals surveyed, men make an average salary of $123,310, compared to women at $80,940. More frightening: The fresh faces those with less than five years of experience show differences, too. Specifically, median male wages = $65,620. Median female earnings = $45,280.

We dominate the field. We’re really good at it. So what has gone wrong? More important: What can we do about it?

The answer: Ask for the money. The best guarantee that this disparity will change lies in each woman’s willingness to stand firm in salary negotiations. I’m not suggesting that you storm into management offices making demands. I am encouraging you to realize your worth.

However, you can’t ask for the money until you believe that you are worth the money. Management easily sniffs out insecurity during pay negotiations. In my own working life, at my first true professional job, my soon-to-be boss abruptly asked what kind of pay I wanted. I was stunned. I didn’t really have a firm number. I had a range. Ranges are dangerous. Find that firm number, even if it flies in the face of salary surveys. Make it yours.

Once I started using a firm number with true courage, it worked. I got the money, but only when I believed. When you and your future or current boss face off in a discussion of worth, the slightest blink, the smallest of twitches will scream insecurity. And if you bill by the hour, examine your rates. Have you been afraid to ask for what you are worth? Do you back off and try to please?

I envy the built-in confidence many men radiate, deserved or not. Who or what shortchanged women in the psychologically confident department along the way? Is it hormones? Upbringing? The current social environment? The answer: It doesn’t matter!

As the industry becomes more respected, women must insist on and aggressively claim a financial stake or prepare to lose ground that might not be re-won for years. Breaking through to senior management often happens when you already roost in the company of the highly paid. You’ve seen it. When someone applies for a job and indicates past salary history, the higher the price, the more respect they gain in the interview. They may not get the job (budget considerations), but they will get a job one day and their tenacity will have raised the bar for all future employment opportunities.

Whatever you must do to internalize this courage, do it now. Sounds good in theory, right? To help you put this to practice, here are eleven ideas I’ve used for cultivating dollar-demanding strength:

  1. Live more simply. High mortgages and debt make you a weak negotiator.
  2. Do you work in an environment that is not family friendly? Don’t talk about your kids, even when encouraged. Superiors will worry that you won’t be up to the long days, or that you may abandon deadline projects when family issues come up. America is full of single co-workers who quietly resent the extra work they must do to cover for women who regularly take time off for their children. This may sound cruel, but it is the truth. If women rise in the ranks, we will have the power to implement new business models to solve this family/work imbalance.
  3. A labor pool shortage looms as boomers start to retire. Take advantage of it.
  4. In a company where you honestly feel you’ll never make the money you need, aggressively look for another. “Catching up significantly means moving to new organizations when the market will pay a premium for talent,” insists Judith Cushman, president of Judith Cushman & Associates. She has a blog that is currently tracking job departures, not openings.
    Pay a visit: www.jc-a.com/Blog/JCABlog.htm
  5. A job well done is never enough. Always anticipate the future and share your ideas with management in the form of proposals. If your boss is paranoid and doesn’t appreciate this, see #3, and find a place where entrepreneurial ideas are rewarded.
  6. Learn and understand the language of your management. Speak it regularly, and management will come to trust and value your ideas. If they don’t, see #3.
  7. Take one day. Treat yourself to an upscale restaurant for a quiet solo lunch. Watch the suits talk. Who looks confident? Who looks frightened or ineffective? Which one are you when in the company of management?
  8. Retreat to nature with pen and paper. Spend the time itemizing the experience and wisdom you should know you already have. Practice “sound bites” out loud to summarize who and what you are. When people used to ask me what I did for a living, I drew a blank. PR is hard to explain. I now say: “I’m a story broker. I find good stories and tip off the right reporter.” When asked about my company, I surgically go to our most unique point: “We are all former journalists.”
  9. Adopt an intern or be a career mentor to someone. Don’t assign them the busy work. Make them a part of your executive life. Let them see what you do. As you teach them, you will teach yourself about yourself.
  10. Dress like those already in upper management. Until you do, they will never see you as their equal. When I landed my first job as a television news producer, I dressed for it. On my first day, I walked into the newsroom and everyone stared. My new boss said, “We’re pretty casual around here. Don’t worry about dressing up.” The room was full of jeans and T-shirts. But he was dressed up. As an anchorman and managing editor, he had to be. So I did, too. Within six months, I was on the air.
  11. Seek the observations of a stranger. Olympic athletes have coaches, why not you? Hire one. She (or he) will root out your internal enemies. It cools the emotions and teaches objectivity.

Ask for the money. “You must take your chance,” wrote William Shakespeare. And we will all be better off for it.


Article originally appeared at Bulldog Reporter.

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