By Sarah Tourville, CEO & Founder
As a female entrepreneur who has been in business for more than a decade, I’ve unfortunately found that advancing in a male-dominated business climate has not been easy. There are still preconceptions about what females are capable of achieving, and a primary challenge has been overcoming these notions and constantly having to battle stereotypes at every stage of my career.
Despite always having to prove myself beyond what’s required of my male peers, succeeding in my role as a CEO has its rewards. I learned a great deal about myself and developed an acute business sense that I wouldn’t have if not for the bumps and roadblocks along the way.
Let’s be honest: Most professions still maintain a C-suite “men’s club” mentality, and the PR industry 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. When you dig deeper, however, the report reveals only 30% of all global PR agencies are run by women. Just 30%.
Years ago, I resolved to make it easier for promising women to achieve their career goals without having to play by rules set 50 years ago by alpha-male Don Drapers.
Promote From Within
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 base. 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 not only the tools but the encouragement they need to be great every single 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.
So, how can women in business thrive once they’ve been given a chair?
Speaking up for yourself is one of the most instrumental things a woman in business can do for herself and her career. Assuming your power in this way 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, we must understand 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? Are there opportunities that will allow them to have their voices heard and feel like a valued part of the company? These are very important questions that we cannot take lightly.
There really isn’t any other option. The PR and marketing business is competitive and if you want to stand out, you have to take risks. Are the stakes higher for women undertaking top roles at a company? Yes. You have to be willing to take risks and understand that the stakes are higher for you as a female undertaking the role at the head of a company. The world is watching. There’s a lot of pressure. But when you finally become the key decision-maker and leader in your own right, you feel a sense of accomplishment that refreshes your fire and only makes you want to fight harder for the next generation of female leaders.
Inviting and encouraging more women to claim their seat at the table is not a cure-all. However, it is one of the first and major steps to help narrow the gender gap and provide women from various backgrounds and walks of life the opportunity to lead.