Women make up half the global population. A century after U.S. women won the right to vote and several decades after sweeping federal reforms designed to create a level playing field in public life, it’s a travesty that they occupy just a small fraction of corporate and institutional leadership positions.
A single blog post won’t solve the entrenched forces and shameful legacies impeding true gender equality. It can highlight the very real, very impressive achievements of women in the communications industry, arguably the most equitable of the major professions. Here’s a look at what it takes to succeed in the communications business — straight from the mouths (or deeds) of the industry’s top women leaders.
1. Find Time for Balance
An odd first choice, perhaps, but that’s because balance is seriously overlooked in a go-go-go economy that positively dares women to keep up with their male counterparts. As Arianna Huffington recently told Fast Company, women leaders can’t be afraid to seek balance and set clear, unalienable boundaries between their personal and professional lives. If you burn out in your 30s, you’ll never become CEO, and you’ll be left wondering what could have been.
2. Find Your Niche
Great leaders excel at identifying strengths and cultivating talent on their teams. Problem is, they often forget to do the same for themselves.
“The most successful women communications professionals identify and pursue one or two niches within the industry,” says Rosemary Plorin, president and CEO of Nashville-based Lovell Communications. When she took the reins a few years back, Plorin herself reinforced Lovell’s longstanding commitment to the healthcare industry. Lovell’s top clients are health systems and providers with similar needs and strategic objectives, which makes Plorin’s job a lot easier (and a lot more fun).
3. Stand Your Ground
There’s no honor in fighting an unwinnable battle. But there is honor in standing up for what you believe, even if it’s not popular. That means taking clients because they match your values, not because they’re easy projects.
“Being a strong leader doesn’t mean avoiding the apology when it’s warranted,” says Sheila Rauner, a veteran communications hand and career consultant for aspiring PR professionals. “It means pursuing projects that align with your beliefs and values, so that your apologies — if and when necessary — are sincere.”
4. Show Off Your Subject Matter Expertise
Do you follow Heather West on Twitter? You should. The New York City-based publicist is one of the most competent professionals in the PR business, period. More to the point, she’s a great example of the raw potential of women who know their…stuff. Every (or almost every — we all get a mulligan here and there) West utterance is an insight into the world of branding, publicity and communications. If you want aspiring communications professionals (and prospective clients) to look up to you, you could do a lot worse than to follow West’s example.
The communications industry is one of the few business niches in which women professionals are actually overrepresented. It’s often touted as an equal rights success story, in fact. At the entry and lower management levels, women communications and PR professionals certainly do outnumber their male counterparts.
Let’s set aside the fact that most other industries are less progressive than communications. Even this ostensibly equitable niche wrestles with an uncomfortable truth: large communications firms are far more likely to be led by men than by women. (Quartz takes an in-depth, semi-depressing look at this phenomenon here.)
Brass tacks: our economy’s most progressive industries are still run by men — and mostly white men, at that. We’re a long way from a truly inclusive, multicultural business world, for sure. But there’s always tomorrow — and, in the meantime, tomorrow’s leaders have plenty of strong women to look up to.